Police challenged over attempt to withhold Prevent data

  • Law reform charity JUSTICE challenging two of England’s largest police forces’ refusals to release data on controversial Prevent programme.
  • These and eight other English forces denied Freedom of Information requests for anonymous data on the ethnicity, age, and gender of Prevent referrals.
  • Appeal in the First-tier Tribunal will consider the police force’s reliance on safeguarding national security and whether the public interest requires the information to be released . 

Law reform charity JUSTICE is today [Friday 19/1/24] challenging an attempt by two of England’s largest police forces – West Midlands and Merseyside – to keep their Prevent referrals data secret. 

JUSTICE asked ten English police forces for anonymised figures on the ethnicity, age, and gender of the people they referred to the Prevent programme from 2017 to 2022. All forces denied the request. 

West Midlands, Merseyside, and eight other police forces responded with near-identical refusals on grounds of national security and law enforcement, despite:

  • In 2022, the Home Office releasing similar but, in JUSTICE’s view, far more granular, demographic data on those people referred to Prevent who progressed further through the process (i.e. to the ‘Channel panel’);
  • The ability for the forces to release requested data in an anonymised form if needed; and
  • The law requiring decisions to be based on the individual facts the case rather than a broad-brush approach.

The First-tier Tribunal is today hearing JUSTICE’s appeal against two decisions by the Information Commissioner (“IC”) to uphold this blanket refusal, primarily on national security grounds.

The charity will argue that the IC and the police forces were wrong to apply the national security exemption to the request, and that, in any event, they did not correctly weigh up the very strong public interest in police accountability (i.e., allowing people to assess how Prevent is operating and how the police are using their powers); in safeguarding policing by consent through transparency; and in promoting evidence-based policy making.

Tyrone Steele, Interim Legal Director at JUSTICE, says:

No matter the colour of our skin or where we live, we must all be able to trust that public bodies will treat us fairly. Generic cookie-cutter refusals to basic checks on how the police are using their powers are never good enough – not least when trust in policing has been rocked by scandal after scandal.

Without this data, it will be impossible to understand how Prevent is being delivered on the ground or what changes are needed to best ensure all communities are protected from discrimination.” 

The controversial Prevent programme is supposed to identify people at risk of radicalisation by terrorist organisations and intervene before they offend. It has long been criticised for stigmatising Muslim communities and for its impact on freedom of expression. There is very little publicly available data on the ethnicity and/or religious identity of individuals referred to Prevent. 

Success in this case would mark the first time that this data about Prevent would be released by the police forces, allowing for proper scrutiny of how the Prevent programme actually operates.

Notes to editors:

  • For more information and interview requests please contact Jessica Kaplan on press@justice.org.uk.
  • Merseyside and West Midlands Police are not participating in the appeal, nor have they filed or served any open evidence, leaving the ICO to defend the forces’ decisions to withhold the data.
  • JUSTICE has long called for improvements to the justice system to tackle racial disparities wherever they exist. In 2021, JUSTICE published its report “Tackling Racial Injustice: Children and the Youth System”, which highlights issues which Muslim communities face as a result of the Prevent programme.
  • For over 20 years, the UK Government’s CONTEST strategy has formed the basis of counter-terrorism efforts by the UK to reduce the risk from terrorism to the UK, its citizens, and interests overseas. The CONTEST framework comprises four work strands: Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. Prevent primarily focuses on preventing people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
  • JUSTICE has been working with Travers Smith LLP to research existing laws, procedures, guidance and statistics relating to and/or affecting Black, Brown and racialised girls and young women in the criminal justice system with a view to identifying any gaps in research and data and making practical recommendations to improve their experiences, reduce levels of discrimination and ensure that they receive the requisite levels of support.
  • JUSTICE is represented in the appeal pro bono by Estelle Dehon KC and John Fitzsimons (Cornerstone Barristers) and Travers Smith LLP.