What kind of 'Prevent' plan is this?

08 June 2011

Author: 
Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy

Yesterday the Government's new "Prevent" strategy promised to challenge extremists who oppose democracy, human rights and equality before the law.

The same night, in the House of Commons, we saw leading representatives of Britain's three main political parties endorsing punishment without charge or trial under "TPIMs" - as Control Orders have been re-branded by the Coalition. Hardly the best way to build trust in politics at home or promote freedom and the Rule of Law around the world.

The old “Prevent” strategy left Muslims feeling targeted and all taxpayers wondering where millions of pounds had gone. But its gravest error was blurring the lines between dissent and criminality and between civil society and security agencies. This is the danger that must be avoided in future. Block terrorist websites and stop prisons breeding hate by all means, but don’t turn teachers and doctors into spies.

But, as with any policy or remedy, "first do no harm". Haven't we had nearly a decade of playing into the hands of extremists by undermining democracy and the rule of law from within? The old control orders allowed indefinite punishment without charge or trial on the basis of secret intelligence - potentially gained by torture around the world - that a suspect and his lawyers would never see. The new control orders/ TPIMs will allow for the same, but this time with no pretence that these are temporary or exceptional measures subject to annual parliamentary review. Still unsafe in leaving potentially dangerous people at large in the community. Still unfair in abandoning any semblance of a charge, trial and conviction before punishment and stigma.

What kind of a "Prevent" plan is that?