Rights group raises concerns about Home Office ‘interference’ in Prevent review

A human rights charity has raised concerns that the Home Office may have “interfered significantly” in the long-delayed review of the contentious Prevent counter-terrorism strategy.

Rights & Security International (RSI) obtained emails through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that potentially reveals interference by the Home Office in the review headed by Sir William Shawcross, raising doubts about its impartiality.

The group has written to the Home Secretary and Shawcross, voicing concerns about the lawfulness and independence of the review.

“Parliament, by law, required an independent review of Prevent. An independent review should be independent,” said RSI’s Sarah St Vincent.

“If the government has shaped the content, then the review is not independent, and the public and Parliament should not be told that it is—full stop.  

“This is a fundamental issue of good governance, and the idea that the UK government might be willing to put the label of ‘independence’ on a report in which it has interfered behind closed doors is Orwellian and deeply alarming.”

The controversial appointment of Shawcross, criticised by Muslim groups for making past remarks about Islam, led to many questioning its impartiality and boycotting the review.

The review should have been presented in 2021 but has been delayed.

Emails with Home Office

The response to RSI’s FOI request shows that Shawcross or members of his review team met with the Home Secretary and other Home Office officials on no fewer than 13 occasions between February 2021 and August 2022.  

It included five meetings after the draft report was apparently provided to the Home Office and Home Secretary.

On April 2022, a Home Office email noted the then Home Secretary Priti Patel’s request to see the draft report “as soon as possible.” According to RSI, subsequent emails suggest that Shawcross and his review team indicated they would consider Home Office “comments and requests” and potential changes.

The group said it appears the Home Office has had a substantial influence on the report. It calls on the Home Office to clarify the situation and provide more information.

The Prevent strategy has been widely criticised for its effects on civil liberties and education, particularly for young children, and its alleged disproportionate focus on the British Muslim community.

“It is therefore critical that the review be independent in addressing the government’s policies and activities,” said RSI.

“RSI says any appearance that the Home Office has influenced the outcome and content of the review would be deeply concerning.

“RSI has now asked Ms Braverman and Sir William for copies of all drafts of the report the latter has sent to the Home Office and all comments on those drafts that they have returned.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “These concerns are unwarranted and we will be responding directly to this letter in due course.”

RSI led a successful legal fight to remove Lord Carlile as independent reviewer in 2019 due to concerns about a lack of independence.

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