Press release

Justice Initiative Seeks Release of Unpublished Research on UK Government's Counter-Extremism Strategy

June 20, 2019
Office of Communications

LONDON—The Open Society Justice Initiative is calling on the UK government to publish expert research that appears to challenge the effectiveness of its controversial counter-extremism strategy. 

In May last year, a specialist police publication, Police Professional, reported the existence of research carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team (the BIT), an expert consultancy partly owned by the Cabinet Office, that the Justice Initiative is now asking to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The publication said the BIT’s research looked at 33 interventions carried out between 2015 and 2018 that aimed “to safeguard vulnerable individuals from far-right and religious extremist threats, and enable identification of radicalisation.”

The researchers reportedly concluded that only two of 33 interventions were effective, and that many counter-extremism programs are not backed up by a sufficiently robust standard of evidence.

According to the article, the study carried out by the BIT is considered to be “one of the most robust evaluations of interventions of this sort to date”, and one which “could have major implications for how counter-radicalisation programs are structured and operated across the UK and abroad”.

In freedom of information requests sent to both the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, the Justice Initiative asserted “a compelling public interest” in disclosure of the BIT study, given that “the effectiveness or otherwise of the UK’s counter terrorism strategies has significant ramifications, including for those communities disproportionately affected by them, as well as, ultimately, for public safety.”

The requests follow the announcement in January by the UK’s Security Minister, Ben Wallace, that the government will establish an independent review of the controversial ‘Prevent’ strategy, which is due to begin before the end of August.

Jana Sadler-Forster, a lawyer for the Justice Initiative, said: “The government has regularly dismissed criticism of Prevent as being based on anecdotal evidence. But by its nature the strategy is cloaked in secrecy, so it’s crucial that the public be given access to objective assessments such as this.” 

The Justice Initiative, part of the Open Society Foundations, is seeking the disclosure of the content and findings of the study or studies carried out by the Behavioural Insights Team, as well as of the evidence compiled as part of its research.

Established to “stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism,” since 2015 Prevent has imposed a statutory duty on health and education bodies to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”

A 2016 report by the Justice Initiative, Eroding Trust: The UK’s Prevent Counter-Extremism Strategy in Health and Education, raised concerns about the disproportionate impact of this statutory duty, concluding that it risked violating human rights, imposed undue burdens on teaching and health professionals without clear guidance, and is ultimately counter-productive. The report expressed particular concern about the erosion of trust between the police and members of the UK’s Muslim community, whose support is an essential element of counter-terrorism efforts.  

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