Former terrorism legislation watchdog to lead probe on Home Office Prevent strategy

Lord Carlile will consider if programme is fit for purpose

Photo: Paco Anselmi/PA

Lord Alexander Carlile QC, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has been appointed to lead a review of the Home Office’s anti-radicalisation strategy Prevent.

The appointment of Carlile, a barrister who was named a CBE in 2012 for services to national security, was announced days after a coalition of human rights and community groups criticised the Home Office’s decision not to hold an open recruitment process for the role.

The Home Office announced plans to review the Prevent strategy, which came into force in 2012, under an amendment to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill in January.


Under the legislation, schools, universities and other institutions must report people they suspect are vulnerable to extremism, described as a “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values” such as democracy and tolerance of different beliefs. Critics have said Prevent could encourage discrimination or have a chilling effect on free speech.

Carlile, a high-profile barrister who defended Princess Diana's former butler Paul Burrell against charges that he had stolen some items from the late Princess of Wales' estate, was Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire for 14 years up to 1997. He became a life peer in 1999, sitting first for the Lib Dems before leaving the party in 2016.

He was independent reviewer of terrorism legislation from 2001 to 2011, and has led a number of government probes including a 2006 inquiry into physical restraint, solitary confinement and forcible strip-searching of children in prisons, and a follow-up public inquiry in 2011. 

In a letter to Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper yesterday, home secretary Priti Patel said Carlile’s appointment demonstrated the Home Office’s “commitment to ensuring that our strategy for supporting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism is as effective as possible in the future”.

The review examine how Prevent is being delivered and make a series of recommendations for the future in a report to parliament by August 2020, the Home Office said,

Patel said a team had been appointed to work on the review, and that terms of reference would be published “shortly”. The team will be independent of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, the Home Office unit that oversees Prevent, she said.

In a letter to security minister Brandon Lewis this weekend, 10 groups including Liberty, Index on Censorship and the Muslim Council of Britain said an “incredibly broad range of people and organisations”, including politicians, health and education workers, had raised concerns about Prevent.

The letter, seen by the Independent, warned that the lack of an open recruitment process for Carlile’s post did “not inspire confidence that the government is seeking to appoint a reviewer with the expertise and independence required to thoroughly scrutinise the logic, remit and impact of Prevent”.

The groups said the review must examine Prevent’s “underlying assumptios and evidence base, its human rights implications, and, ultimately, whether it is fit for purpose”. 

Liberty, a human rights charity, has pushed for an independent review of Prevent, which it has said “worsens the problems it seeks to combat by facilitating discrimination and alienating whole communities, spreading fear and suspicion, shutting down debate and driving those with violent views [and] ideas underground”.

Carlile’s successor as terrorism legislation reviewer until 2017 David Anderson, said in 2015 that a review was needed because there was an “undeniable” lack of confidence in Prevent and that it was “possible… that aspects of the programme [were] ineffective or being applied in an insensitive or discriminatory manner”.

Announcing the review in January, then-security minister Ben Wallace said: “This review should expect those critics of Prevent, who often use distortions and spin, to produce solid evidence of their allegations.”

He said annual statistics for the programme “clearly show that Prevent is not about singling out any particular group or ideology but is similar to other forms of safeguarding, carried out every day by social workers, teachers and police”.

According to the Home Office, more than 1,200 people have been “supported by tailored mentoring and support” through Channel, the rehabilitation arm of the programme. In 2017-18, the most recent year for which figures are available, 394 were referred to Channel, 45% for concerns related to Islamist extremism and 44% related to right-wing extremism.

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