The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act received Royal Assent on 12 February 2015. Among other provisions, the act places the Prevent programme on a statutory footing. This means that from the 1st July 2015 every local authority will have a legal duty to, "when exercising its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism". Prevent is one of four strands of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, and aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. The Prevent Strategy was revised in 2011. The other three strands are:
- pursue: to stop terrorist attacks
- protect: to strengthen our protection against terrorist attacks
- prepare: where an attack cannot be stopped, to mitigate its impact.
Summary of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 Act
Part 1 contains new powers for summary passport seizure at ports and borders and an Executive power to invalidate passports and prevent the return of British citizens outside of the jurisdiction;
Part 2 contains reforms to the TPims (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) regime and reintroduces an Executive power to internally exile individuals within the UK for up to two years
Part 3 extends the Home Secretary’s power to require communications companies to retain communications data
Part 4 creates a new authority to carry scheme which will, for the first time, forbid airline carriers from taking British citizens and entire categories of nationality in and out of the country
Part 5 covers new duties to address the risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism
Part 6 amends the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to allow for the warrantless interception of all post sent within the UK or to and from the UK.
Parts of the act relevant to local authorities:
Part 5 Chapter 1 (sections 26 - 35) of the act creates a “general duty on specified authorities” that a specified authority must, when exercising its functions, have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This clause in effect places the Prevent strategy on a statutory footing.
The Prevent Duty
The legal duty and statutory guidance will cover all 353 principal local authorities in England and Wales, including existing Prevent Priority Areas.
All local authorities covered will be expected to assess the threat of radicalisation in their areas and to take appropriate action. Local authorities across the UK are categorised by the Home Office on the basis of risk as either Priority or non-Priority Areas. In London there are 21 Priority Areas (tier 1 & tier 2) and 13 non-Priority Areas.
The Prevent duty guidance, published alongside the act sets an expectation that local authorities will:
- Establish or make use of an existing local multi-agency group to agree risk and co-ordinate prevent activity (these multi-agency groups, through local authorities, will be expected to put in place arrangements to effectively monitor the impact of Prevent work).
- Use the existing counter-terrorism local profiles to begin to assess the risk of individuals being drawn into terrorism.
- Engage with Prevent coordinators, schools, universities, colleges, local prisons, probation services, health, immigration enforcement and others as part of the risk assessment process.
- Mainstream the prevent duty so it becomes part of the day-to-day work of the authority, in particular children’ safeguarding.
- Any local authority that assesses, through the multi-agency group, that there is a risk will be expected to develop a Prevent action plan.
- Ensure frontline staff have a good understanding of Prevent, are trained to recognise vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism and are aware of available programmes to deal with this issue.
The other specified authorities in the act who are also subject to the Prevent duty include criminal justice agencies including prisons, educational and childcare establishments, health and the police.
The intensified and changed nature of the threat, particularly from those seeking to travel to, or return from Syria, now affects all London boroughs, not just those deemed “priority areas” .
To comply with the duty local authorities will also need to develop skills and abilities to recognise signs and indicators of radicalisation amongst all front line staff, particularly those working with children and young people or children’s safeguarding leads.
London Councils is keen to ensure that local government has both the funding and the means to be fully involved in taking on the new responsibilities in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
Role of Local Councillors
As local areas look to strengthen or establish processes to ensure that they are complying with the new duty there are clear roles for local councillors.
Work to stop people from becoming terrorists and respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and aspects of extremism may seem distant to the day-to-day role of local councillors - however, successful prevention strategies will only work when underpinned by the support of councillors’ knowledge and relationships in a local area.
Councillors involved in local overview and scrutiny will want to be assured about the nature of risk in their local area and the work being done to address any identified risk. Councillors are well placed to listen to and understand constituents’ concerns, and can share their understanding of sources of community tension with the local authority.
Councillors can also use their authority and legitimacy to challenge the narratives of radicalisers and extremists and put forward positive alternatives, working with the wider community to condemn the activities of extremists who misrepresent local community views.
Prevent and Schools
Prevent Coordinators across London have established good links with local schools. Some local areas have all employed dedicated Prevent Schools and Colleges Engagement Officers to work with all local schools on the Prevent agenda. Broadly the role includes teacher training, engaging with pupils on topical issues and developing lesson plans to support teachers.
In addition Prevent Coordinators are increasingly working with their local safeguarding children boards to help them develop preventing extremism policies. A number of areas also mandate that youth groups using local government’s community spaces have a preventing extremism policy.
Part 5 Chapter 2 (sections 26-35) provides a statutory framework for a joint local authority/police panel to assess the extent to which identified individuals are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and to put in place a support plan. This effectively places Channel on a statutory footing. The Act sets out that these panels are to be chaired by the responsible local authority.
The Channel process aims to provide support to individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism. Channel is voluntary and an individual must provide consent. It draws on existing collaboration between local authorities, the police, statutory partners (such as the education sector, social services, children’s and youth services and offender management services) and the local community and has three objectives: to identify individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism; to assess the nature and extent of that risk; to develop the most appropriate support for the individuals concerned. Funding for Channel is provided by OSCT.