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Overhaul of terrorism prevention laws could increase burden on universities, says expert

Out-Law News | 06 May 2022 | 2:22 pm | 1 min. read

A potential overhaul of the legislation requiring universities to put policies and procedures in place to help prevent terrorism could widen their obligations, an expert has said.

Home secretary Priti Patel was quoted last month in several publications, saying the ‘Prevent’ counter-terrorism programme would be amended. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 introduced a duty which requires specified authorities, including further and higher education institutions, to help stop people being drawn into extremism.

Ahead of the outcome of a review into Prevent, and in the wake of incidents such as the murder of MP David Amess, Patel told journalists: “I can’t prejudge a review but it’s quite clear, and I say this from my own observations from what I see, that there are things that need to change.”

Stephanie Badrock

Associate, Pinsent Masons

If the review widens the scope of the Prevent programme this may mean that universities will need to be mindful of wider issues, beyond terrorism, when discharging their obligations

Higher education expert Stephanie Badrock of Pinsent Masons said: “Institutions are already demonstrating some good practice in this area with thought through procedures and policies in place and, importantly, implementing these procedures on a case-by-case basis.”

“The recent comments made by the home secretary suggest that the Prevent strategy needs an overhaul, needing a shift in its focus to anti-violence rather than counterterrorism. Until a wider review takes place, it’s unclear what impact this could have on universities and their Prevent duties,” Badrock said.

An attempt to prevent other forms of violence, such as violence towards women, could therefore potentially be included in a review of Prevent – although there are also suggestions that a review could narrow the focus of the duty back to Islamist terror threats.

“If the review widens the scope of the Prevent programme this may mean that universities will need to be mindful of wider issues, beyond terrorism, when discharging their obligations, with the potential for Prevent to extend to issues such as gender-based violence and right-wing activism.,” said Badrock.

“This could mean reinforcing systems and procedures already in place within institutions in order to identify vulnerable individuals who may be drawn into acts of violence which extend outside of terrorism,” Badrock said.