‘Everyone’s liberties could suffer under extremism law’

The “liberties of every citizen” may be affected by plans aimed at cracking down on ‘extremists’, the Government’s terrorism watchdog has said.

David Anderson QC noted that the current broad definition of extremism could lead to state investigation of the “exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”.

His comments come as the Government prepares its extremism Bill which seeks to curb “all forms of extremism”. It is set to include Extremism Disruption Orders for individuals and Banning Orders for groups.

Suppressive measures

Serious concerns about the threat to free speech have been raised following David Cameron’s comments on the issue – that the Government will target people who are not breaking the law.

Anderson warned that the issues raised in his annual report matter because they concern limits placed on basic freedoms and the “acceptability of imposing suppressive measures without the protections of the criminal law”.

Raising questions about “over-broad laws”, he said: “Of particular importance is the potential of the new law to affect those who are not its targets”.

Chilling effect

Anderson said MPs and Peers should consider 15 particularly sensitive issues when the Bill is scrutinised. They include:

  • How extremist activity is to be defined;
  • What burden of proof will be required for the Extremism Disruption Orders and Banning Orders, who will decide on them and details of any appeal process;
  • The evidence for a causal link between the expression of extremist views and terrorism;
  • Whether the criminal penalties for breaching the Orders are proportionate; and
  • The “chilling effect” on others not covered by the Orders.
  • Free speech

    Anderson also highlighted that there has been no public consultation, nor a Green or White Paper on the issue.

    He commented: “Previous Bills impinging on free speech, even in relatively confined respects, have been understandably controversial.

    “The issues are complex, and the liberties of every citizen are potentially affected.”

    He added that if “it becomes a function of the state to identify which individuals are engaged in, or exposed to, a broad range of ‘extremist activity’, it will become legitimate for the state to scrutinise (and the citizen to inform upon) the exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”.

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