Scottish Universities Must Stand Against Prevent

SACC Statement

No Prevent training. No vetting of speakers. No hiding behind the law.

The implementation of the UK Government's Prevent programme in Scottish universities has intensified since the Prevent Duty Guidance for Higher Education issued under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 came into effect in September 2015.

In SACC's view, Prevent is discriminatory, Islamophobic and anti-democratic and should be scrapped. We understand that a number of universities have indicated to staff that they are opposed to Prevent. They are nevertheless implementing it. University staff appear to believe that they would be at risk of disciplinary action by their university if they refuse to participate in Prevent. The result is that Scottish universities are becoming complicit in a policy that is widely thought to be damaging to democratic society, that may increase the risk of terrorism, and that may violate or stand on the brink of violating fundamental human rights.

In a statement on 21 April 2016, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said:

"The feedback from civil society on the impact of the Prevent strategy was overwhelmingly negative. Students, activists, and members of faith-based organizations related countless anecdotes of the program being implemented in a way that translates simply into crude racial, ideological, cultural and religious profiling, with consequent effects on the right to freedom of association of some groups."

Maina Kiai also said:

"It appears that Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatizing and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it."

Maina Kiai’s statement supports SACC’s view that Prevent is having an immediate, serious and damaging impact on political life and civil society, and that urgent steps are needed to counter it. We do not accept that the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA) leaves Scottish universities with no choice but to force staff and students to comply with Prevent.

We urge universities in Scotland to take the following steps:

  • Cease to give Prevent training to university staff;
  • Cease to vet speakers in connection with room bookings, whether by student associations or by external organisations;
  • Avoid seeking ways to give misleading legitimacy and credibility to Prevent. We understand that Strathclyde University is proposing to give Islamophobia Awareness training to everyone who receives Prevent training. This exacerbates rather than mitigates the problem. Besides drawing people into the Prevent programme, it fatally undermines the struggle against Islamophobia by linking it to an Islamophobic policy

According to the statutory Prevent Duty Guidance for Scotland, legal action under the CTSA against perceived non-compliance by a public body with Prevent can only be initiated on a recommendation of the Prevent Oversight Board. In dealing with public bodies in Scotland, the Prevent Oversight Board is required by the Guidance to include Scottish Ministers.

We believe that there would be wide support for the view that the Prevent Oversight Board should recommend against any use of the power of direction available under the CTSA if the university were to take the steps outlined above. We would also hope that Scottish Ministers would in these circumstances dissent from any recommendation to use the power of direction that the Prevent Oversight Board might be minded to make.

If the Prevent Oversight Board were nevertheless to recommend in favour of resort to the power of direction, the Secretary of State for the Home Department would then need to apply to the Court of Session for an order of specific implement, as set out in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (Risk of Being Drawn into Terrorism) (Amendment and Guidance) Regulations 2015. At that point, the university would need to consider its legal position in relation to human rights legislation as well as in relation to the CTSA. Until then, the issue is primarily a political rather than a legal one.

SACC will not accept that universities implementing Prevent are acting on the basis of legal necessity unless they are acting under a court order.

Scottish universities must stand against Prevent and stop hiding behind the law.