Rights & Security International (RSI), a London-based human rights charity, says copies of emails it has secured through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request emphasise concerns that the Home Office could have interfered significantly in the report of the Independent Review of its Prevent strategy.
The group, which led a successful legal fight to have Lord Carlile removed as independent reviewer in 2019 due to concerns about a lack of independence, believes the emails to and from Home Office officials may show interventions by the Home Office in the Review now led by Sir William Shawcross, calling into question the Review’s independence.
The group has now written to the Home Secretary and Sir William voicing its serious concerns about the lawfulness of the ongoing Independent Review of Prevent, one of the four elements of CONTEST, the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
In its letter to the Home Secretary, RSI says that interventions by the government in the contents of the review report would compromise the independence of the Review. The review was commissioned on the basis it needed to be independent, and its independence is mandated by section 20(8) of the Counter Terrorism Border Security Act 2019 (as amended), which requires an “independent review and report on the Government strategy for supporting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism”.
The Independent Review should have been presented to Parliament by 31 December 2021, but has been delayed.
The response to RSI’s FOI request show that Sir William and/or members of his review team met with the Home Secretary, Home Office Ministers and/or other senior Home Office officials on no fewer than 13 occasions between 9 February 2021 and 18 August 2022, including five meetings after the draft report of the Independent Review was apparently provided to the Home Office and Home Secretary.
On 13 April 2022, a Home Office email notes the then Home Secretary Priti Patel’s request to see the draft of the Independent Review report “as soon as possible”. A week later, another email indicates that her office would receive a draft “by the end of the week”. Sir William appears to have asked for an extension of his IT access so that he could respond to any comments from the Home Office on his draft.
An email dated 25 April provides an amended version of the report. It would appear from context that the proposed amendments were made by the Home Office. An email dated 29 April notes that meetings had been arranged with someone at the Home Office to discuss the draft report, with Sir William invited to “deal with comments or requests” by the end of May.
In its letter to the Home Secretary, RSI says it seems that the Home Office has had significant input into the report. It invites the Home Office to explain what happened and provide further detail.
The Prevent strategy has long been controversial for its impact on civil liberties and education, including for young children, and an alleged excessive focus on British Muslims. It is therefore critical that the review be independent in addressing the government’s policies and activities.
RSI considers this to be particularly important in circumstances where the Government made clear its initial opposition to an independent review of Prevent, describing calls for it as “unfounded”. 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.
RSI has also asked why the Home Office was given a draft copy of the report, which other departments have seen it and when, and what amendments were made, as well as a list of other questions.
Sarah St Vincent of RSI said:
“Parliament, by law, required an independent review of Prevent. An independent review should be independent. 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.”
“Our client has raised serious concerns about the lawfulness of the ongoing Independent Review of Prevent and considers that the nature of the interactions between the Home Secretary and the Independent Reviewer may compromise the Review’s ‘independence’. As a consequence the Review may not satisfy the requirement of independence imposed by Parliament.”