Draft statutory guidance on proposed duty to prevent radicalisation on campus

In a blog last December, (A new legal duty to prevent radicalisation on campus) we covered the proposals in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill which will require universities and colleges to  have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.  

The Home Office has since published draft guidance on how to discharge the duty, which is currently subject to consultation. To summarise, the Bill gives the Home Secretary the power to publish guidance, and listed authorities must have regard to it, or face further directions and possibly court action.

Key points in the draft guidance (together with some initial thoughts on them) are as follows:

1.    Although the statutory duty is to prevent people being drawn into terrorism as defined in the Terrorism Act 2000, the guidance requires institutions to take steps to prevent “extremism”.  Extremism is defined by the Government as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” The definition includes calling for the deaths of members of our armed forces. The extremism to be prevented is not just violent extremism, but also non-violent extremism. The guidance is therefore significantly broader than the statutory duty.

2.     Every institution will need to assess the risk of radicalisation (not defined, but presumably the scope for individuals connected with the institution to develop extremist views or terrorist sympathies) and then determine what needs to be done to address it.

3.    The risk and the actions needed to address it will need to be communicated to “frontline” staff, who will need to be trained to identify those at risk of radicalisation and what to do to obtain appropriate support for them. Concern has of course already been expressed about the appropriateness of asking academic and/or pastoral staff to undertake this role.

4.    Institutions will need to continue to work with the police, local authorities and each other to share information about those at risk of radicalisation or indeed those who promote extremist views. The guidance is at pains to emphasise the need to share this data lawfully and proportionately and one can imagine that there will be some difficult cases on which data protection officers will be asked to advise.

5.    Specific requirements for universities and colleges include:

·       The provision of “sufficient” chaplaincy and pastoral support for students, which is seen as a “key element of compliance” with the duty;

·       Robust policies and procedures for managing speakers on campus, including advance notice and vetting of the content and materials for events, and processes to mitigate the risk of extremist content, such as a guarantee of opposing viewpoints in the discussion;

·       IT policies and filters that restrict access to harmful content, and policies to manage access for those who require to view such content for legitimate academic purposes;

·       Policies to monitor the activities of students’ unions and their societies, to ensure extremism is not allowed to flourish there; and

·       Policies for the use of faith-related facilities such as prayer rooms, including an oversight committee and a process to deal with any “issues arising from the use of the facilities”.

6.    The guidance proposes that responsibility for monitoring compliance with the duty should rest with Ofsted for FE colleges (building on the role Ofsted now undertakes in schools following the Trojan Horse case) and HEFCE for universities and alternative providers of HE. The guidance acknowledges that this would require legislation to expand HEFCE’s role. It is questionable whether HEFCE is the right body to monitor compliance with the proposed duty (it seems a marked departure from HEFCE’s current role) and one sincerely hopes that if legislation is passed it deals with a broader rationalisation of HEFCE’s role rather than yet another piecemeal addition to its regulatory remit.

The consultation on the guidance will run until 30 January 2015. Assuming (as the cynic would assume is likely) that it is adopted in substantially its current form, institutions would be well advised to start considering how best to tackle some of the flashpoints that will inevitably arise as they seek to implement it.

 

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1332
M:  07909 925946
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International DD: +44 870 763 1332
E: smita.jamdar@sghmartineau.com
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