'A very dangerous business' - terrorism legislation adviser raises alarm over Government clampdown on extremism

Posted On: 
30th December 2016

The terrorism legislation watchdog has hit out at the Government’s “dangerous” plans to clamp down on non-violent extremism. 

The Counter Extremism and Safeguarding Bill was announced in the 2016 Queen's Speech
PA Images

In this year’s Queen’s Speech, the Government announced plans for a new “civil order regime to restrict extremist activity” as part of the new Counter Extremism and Safeguarding Bill.

Extremism was defined in the document as “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

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David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said measures such as social media bans or limitations on movement and association could be used as part of a “silence coerced by law”.

The Government is yet to come forward with its detailed proposals, but Mr Anderson said the plan ran contrary to free speech.

“Freedom of speech is notoriously a value that everyone subscribes to in theory but in practice it very often depends on the views that are being expressed,” he told Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“I think silence coerced by law, as an American judge once put it, is a very dangerous business – particularly when you’re looking at something as vague as extremism. I’ve not met anyone who can really define it in a satisfactory way...

“It may be one thing to have a policy of opening people’s eyes and making sure that they know about critical thinking and they can approach the internet in a critical manner, but to start applying the force of the law to people who oppose certain values I think is a really difficult and dangerous line to go down.”

Silencing proponents of unpalatable views was “not the way” the UK has dealt with challenges to liberal values in the past, he added.

“We didn’t ban Communism during the Cold War and I think we should be strong and robust enough to argue back,” Mr Anderson said.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights delivered a scathing verdict on the Government’s proposals in the summer.

The cross-party group of MPs and peers said the Government had not yet defined extremism, and warned that its plan could lead to people informing upon law-abiding citizens.