People who practise their faith in a traditional, conservative way could face police investigations under a Government Extremism Bill, the terrorism watchdog has warned.
David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, cautioned that people who are ‘miles away from terrorism’ could be caught up by a ‘broad-brush’ law on extremism.
The Government promised a consultation on its extremism plans in the Queen’s Speech last year.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Anderson warned against the “very dangerous” idea of ‘silence coerced by law’, noting that it was particularly concerning when it sought to curb “something as vague as extremism”. “I’ve not met anyone who can really define it in a satisfactory way”, he added.
He explained that a broad definition could lead to numerous probes – “the police are going to feel they have to investigate all sorts of people who are miles away from being terrorists, but may just practise religion in a conservative way”.
Anderson, who is stepping down from his role next month, also stated that the Government’s plans differ from previous stances taken in the UK, noting that communism was never banned during the Cold War.
To “start applying the force of the law to people who oppose certain values, I think, is a really difficult and dangerous line to go down”, he said.
Anderson has repeatedly spoken against the Government’s anti-extremism Bill – in November he said a draft of the legislation was “the single document that has alarmed me most” during his time in the post.
Last year, a leading Parliamentary committee said it was “none the wiser” about Government efforts to crack down on extremism, after a Home Office minister appeared in front of MPs and Peers.
Karen Bradley faced the Joint Committee on Human Rights but failed to give any specific details on multiple issues.
The Christian Institute and others in the Defend Free Speech campaign have consistently warned that Whitehall’s anti-extremism plans threaten free speech.