One of the most senior policemen involved with the Government’s counter-terrorism drive has voiced concerns that upcoming legislation could lead to people being criminalised simply for expressing unpopular views.
Chief Constable Simon Cole, the police lead for the Government’s Prevent programme, said plans to counter extremism could lead to ‘thought policing’.
The Government outlined its proposed Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill in the Queen’s Speech last week.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mr Cole said the Government’s plans may not be enforceable and could make police officers judges of “what people can and cannot say”.
He argued that we have to “have some limits about what you can say but they need to be as broad as they possibly can be”.
Cole added: “Unless you can define what extremism is very clearly then it’s going to be really challenging to enforce”.
“We don’t want to be the thought police”.
According to The Guardian, he is among several British police chiefs who are critical of the plans.
We don’t want to be the thought policeChief Constable Simon Cole
Opposition to the Government’s counter-extremism drive has centred on Extremism Disruption Orders or EDOs, which are intended to “restrict the activities of people the Government thinks are engaged in ‘extreme activities’ – even if they have not broken the law”.
The orders are to be applied using the very loose definition of extremism: “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”.
A range of critics have warned that under this subjective definition, innocent people could fall foul of the law for merely holding unpopular, traditional or challenging views.
Defend Free Speech
The legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech last week promises to “tackle extremism in all its forms”. The Government will consult on aspects of the legislation in the coming months.
As part of a joint press release with supporters of the Defend Free Speech campaign Simon Calvert, spokesman for The Christian Institute, said: “The Government’s approach to extremism is unfocused.
“Unless we can make them see sense, the range of people who could find themselves labelled ‘extremist’ by their own government is about to get a whole lot wider.”