Joint Committee on Human Rights sends the Counter Extremism Bill the way of the Dodo

Big Brother Watch Team / July 22, 2016

The Counter Extremism Bill – the Bill to “prevent radicalisation, tackle extremism in all its forms and promote community integration” is to all intents and purposes extinct following a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The Committee has concluded that because the Government can’t demonstrate why they need a new law they simply “should not legislate” – you can’t get clearer than that.

The conclusion of the Committee is warmly welcomed by Big Brother Watch.

The Counter Extremism Bill is one of those pieces of legislation long discussed; it’s been a feature of two Queen’s Speeches, but it’s yet to actually materialise beyond a poorly outlined strategy.

When the Government published the strategy back in 2015 Big Brother Watch, as part of the Defend Free Speech campaign, raised concerns over the plans, in particular the proposed Extremism Disruption Orders. These orders were designed to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour. But as we pointed out there was no accurate definition of “extremism”.

The lack of definition was a focus point for the Committee who pointed out that it made it impossible to establish or understand what legal powers would be needed to combat extremism even if it could be accurately defined.

They emphasised that the Government’s proposals rest on “assumption”, that there is no proof or agreement that religious conservatism “correlates with support for violent jihadism” and that any Bill should be evidence based. With regard to the Extremism Disruption Orders they note that the Government are now talking more generally about “a new civil order regime”, which infers that the half-baked ideas in the 2015 Strategy have been rolled back on.

It is no wonder that the Committee have reached these conclusions. The Government have repeatedly sidestepped the Committee’s questions and calls for clarity, not only in writing but in the recent oral evidence session given by Karen Bradley – the then Home Office Minister recently promoted to Culture Secretary.

You would be forgiven for having missed this evidence session; there has after all been rather a lot of politics going on of late, but if you are interested in the Counter Extremism Bill it is worth a watch (you can find it here).

Ms Bradley attempted to outline what the Home Office have meant when they said they want to put an end to the promotion of ideology which leads to harmful activity. She said that the strategy would be more than just legislation and that it should “future proof” on types of extremism “we cannot even imagine”. When pushed to add meat to the bones of what the Bill would look like, she repeatedly stressed that she had no view on what would be most appropriate or indeed what the definitions or wording of the Bill would or should be. It is no surprise that the Committee were “never entirely clear what problem the new legislation was designed to combat.”

By the end of the session what was clear was that the much vaunted Bill was nothing more than a vague idea which the Home Office want civil society and other interested parties to define through consultation.

The Joint Committee at the time expressed verbal concern but it’s the report which makes it abundantly clear; if the Government want a law they must draft a Bill. It is not for society to write law and furthermore without clear legal definitions consultation would be quite simply “futile”.

Let’s hope that the new Home Secretary heeds the Committee’s words and as one of her first acts she calls time on this unnecessary Bill.