Monthly Archives: March 2013

BBC News reports on a consultation opened by the Communities and Local Government department on changing the date for the UK local elections in 2014 to coincide with the European Parliament elections which will take place the same year.

The Government is consulting ahead of the elections which will see officials stand for election in 160 principal local authorities in England, including in all 32 London boroughs, and for 5 directly elected mayors (in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford).

According to the consultation paper, combining polling to fall on the same day will save an estimated £10 million, as well as avoid any confusion arising from elections taking place within weeks of each other.

The paper sets out the consultation on “…moving the date of the local elections in England from 1 May 2014, so that they take place on the same day as the European Parliamentary elections in that year. It invites the views of interested parties, including local authorities, on whether or not to move the local government elections.”

It states, “It is less convenient for voters to be asked to turn out and vote twice within a period of weeks and hence having elections on the same day supports the fairness of elections.”

You can read the consultation paper here. The consultation concludes on 13th May 2013.

BBC News and The Guardian report on the arrest of 30 individuals following disorder at a English Defence League protest in Walsall last September.

Police raided homes in Tipton, West Bromwich, Brownhills and Acocks Green after studying CCTV footage to identify the troublemakers.

According to BBC News:

“Det Insp Pete Dunn said the force had used CCTV footage to identify those involved in the disorder.

“He said: “The majority of the people attending these demonstrations were law-abiding, however small numbers of people decided to get embroiled in disorder and ultimately there were a few ugly scenes when people began to try and break through police lines and were throwing missiles.”

“Of the 30 people arrested on the day of the protest, 27 were charged with public order offences, including violent disorder.

“One man received a 25-week prison sentence for possession of an offensive weapon.

“A second man received a suspended sentence for assaulting a police officer.

“A further 19 men will appear before Wolverhampton Crown Court on 9 April for a plea and case management hearing for violent disorder charges.

“Others arrested on the day have received fines and suspended sentences.”

The Times front page story yesterday covered the publication by the Home Office of the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy 2012 annual report.

The Times and Daily Telegraph both point to the report’s mention of trouble spots around the world that threaten the UK’s national security including Yemen, Somalia, al Qaida in the Maghreb, covering Mali, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, as well as Syria.

On Syria, the basis of the Times and Daily Telegraph stories emerge for this paragraph in the report:

“There are now hundreds of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria. As and when UK residents return here there is a risk that they may carry out attacks using the skills that they have developed overseas.”

BBC News meanwhile focuses on claims in the report on the number of interventions made under the Channel programme – which deals with referrals of individuals suspected of vulnerability to radicalisation. The report claims:

“Between January 2007 and December 2012, almost 2,500 referrals were made to Channel, generally by the police and statutory organisations. Over 500 people have received support.”

The annual report, which covers the period July 2011 to December 2012, states that “In the twelve months to 30 September 2012, there were 245 terrorism-related arrests in Great Britain: 45 people were charged with terrorism related offences and 18 convicted; a further 25 people were awaiting trial as at 18 January 2013.”

The report goes on to relay some of the cases that have been prosecuted this past year as well as breakdown initiatives and sectors covered by the four strands of the strategy, Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare.

On assessment of the counter-terrorism threat facing the UK, the report states:

“We judge that the terrorist threat to the UK from far right extremism is low in comparison to the threat from international terrorism. NDEU data shows that in 2012 there were five arrests under terrorism legislation in relation to far right wing activity.”

Though the revised CONTEST strategy took note of terrorism threats emerging from non Al-Qaida inspired violent extremism, it is difficult to discern from the annual report the extent to which far right extremism is treated as a serious concern.

The report mentions stop and search powers granted under terrorism legislation and the changes introduced in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 altering Section 44 stop and search powers.

In the same section, the report also covers the consultation on Schedule 7 powers stating the Government “…has completed a review of the operation of Schedule 7 and a public consultation on proposals to amend how the powers might operate in future. Responses to that consultation, which ended in December 2012, are being considered and proposals to amend the legislation will be brought forward at the earliest opportunity.”

On Prevent, the aspect of counter-terrorism strategy that has had the greatest impact on Muslim communities, the report makes mention of all the sectors in which work is undertaken including education, prison, higher education institutions, the charity sector, faith sector, and health services.

The report states that counter-terrorism work has enabled “…identif[ying] structured, co-ordinated, and well funded networks of Islamist extremists in this country whose messages are divisive, anti democratic, anti western, intolerant of other faiths and lifestyles and highly critical of people who do not follow their interpretation of Islam. We have seen how far right groups have developed an Islamophobic and white supremacist ideology, which is also anti democratic, intolerant and conducive to violence. We know these extreme Islamist and far right organisations feed off one another and try to create enmity, suspicion and hatred between our communities.”

The report recognises the role of the faith sector and its “unique role…in engaging with young people at risk of radicalisation and addressing claims made in the name of religion by apologists for violence”

The emphasis on religiously inspired violence permeates the annual report and as the paragraph above shows, there is little in the report to suggest how threats from far right extremism are being tackled. This despite the speech delivered by the Security Minister, James Brokenshire earlier this month on the very real threat posed by the far right.

The report also mentions initiatives supported by the Home Office on tackling online propaganda and messages:

“We have supported community-based campaigns that rebut terrorist and extremist propaganda and offer alternative views to our most vulnerable target audiences. We have worked with digital communications experts to help fifteen civil society groups exploit the potential of the internet.”

There is no mention in the report of which ‘community-based campaigns’ have received support or detail on the ‘alternative views’ disseminated. Nor any information about the ‘fifteen civil society groups’ that have received guidance. If a major concern of the former strategy was the lack of transparency over Government funding of ‘community campaigns’, the annual report published this week fails to remedy this disquiet on government interventions in civil society.

Finally, the report alludes to aspects of the ‘community based approach’ to counter-terrorism referring to the need for “more websites established to refute claims made by terrorist and extremist organisations. Wherever possible these websites should be created and sustained by communities and not by Government.”

You can lodge a Freedom of Information request with the Home Office for details concerning the campaigns and civil society groups that have been supported and financed by the Government since the introduction of the new CONTEST strategy. Details of how to here.

A former BNP councillor is planning an anti-mosque protest in Crayford calling the NWK Muslim Association’s separate entrances for men and women ‘ a form of apartheid’.

According to the local paper, Paul Golding, former BNP councillor and national organiser for the English National Resistance, is organising the protest for mid-May saying:

“The ENR is opposed to the treatment by muslims of women as second class citizens and objects strongly to the NWK mosque in Crayford insisting on a form of apartheid, or segregation, of women in line with Islamic principles that view women as inferior to men.

“To find that fundamental medieval attitude on the streets of Crayford in an ex-Christian church, we were appalled.”

The ENR previously approached the NWK Muslim Association asking that they cover a cross on the building and remove the signs demarcating separate entrances for men and women.

The mosque’s imam, Hafiz Rahman, told the paper, “We’re not breaking the law.

“If there’s any concern they should go through the courts. They can’t remove the sign because it’s private property.”

The ENR has vowed to organise a “sustained campaign of protest against the mosque” until it complies with its demands to stop the segregation of women and cover up the cross by April 17.

Muslim women will no doubt find the far right group’s championing of their rights particularly amusing. Muslim women’s dress has been a notable point of contention in far right discourse and literature with images of Muslim women in Islamic dress regularly used to exemplify ‘the changing face’ of the UK. Moreover, the BNP pledged in its 2010 election manifesto to ‘ban the burka, ritual slaughter and the building of further mosques in Britain.’

Catholic weekly, TheTablet, features articles by speakers at the debate held in Westminster last month debating the question – Is it right for religions to treat men and women differently?

Speakers offered their views from a Christian, an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim perspective.

The podcasts can be viewed here and the Tablet feature article can be read here.

Notable among the speakers is Fatima Barkatullah, a trainer with the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA).  The organisation was last month banned by University College London following allegations that the group ‘enforced’ segregated seating at an event held on the university’s premises.

As the House of Lords begins its debate on the provisions contained in the Royal Charter deal announced by the Government last week, the weekend papers continue with coverage of the press reform campaign group, Hacked Off.

The Mail on Sunday, Sunday Telegraph and Observer all cover the fallout and recriminations since the deal was struck last week ahead of a Commons showdown.

An Observer editorial yesterday opined the rush to agree a deal stating “To build any partnership on voluntary lines, there has to be intensive discussion, meticulous drafting and basic agreement.”

While ‘basic agreement’ seems some way off, the Daily Mail and Telegraph Group, among others, have rejected the prospect of signing up to a regulator overseen by statutory underpinning, ‘intensive discussion’ and ‘meticulous drafting’ cannot be dismissed so easily. Since the publication of the Leveson report last November there have been intensive discussions and drafts aplenty – from politicians, campaigners and the industry. It is the failure to draft something that came close to complying with Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, including counsel to conduct meetings with transparency, that have been the sticking point for campaigners determined to ‘do Leveson’.

In today’s Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, who along with the editors of the Independent and Financial Times spoke out in favour of statutory underpinning to press regulation, touches on issues that press will find difficult to digest: ‘exemplary damages’ awarded to those who remain outside the regulator’s jurisdiction; ‘third party complaints’; the ability to ‘direct’ apologies and determining the scope of the regulator’s jurisdiction in relation to blogs and other non-newspaper type publishers.

Rusbridger argues that while press reform and a free press are fundamental, neither can be achieved “at speed or in the dark”. One might add the further condition that in striking a balance between reform and the rights of a free press, the wishes of those victims of press abuse and poor regulation in the past should not be excluded.

The Guardian today covers the latest in the Justice and Security Bill’s parliamentary passage reporting that the House of Lords is ready to engage in “ping pong with grenades” to ensure its tabled amendments find their way into the final Bill.

The Guardian reports, “Peers are planning to table amendments to the justice and security bill that would ensure judges are given complete discretion over the new system and the courts are used as a last resort. This will be done when the bill reaches “ping pong” stage, in which it shuttles between the two houses of parliament as MPs and peers haggle over last-minute amendments.”

Amendments the Lords are tabling include:

“Guarantee full judicial discretion to ensure the new courts are only used as a last resort after all other avenues have been exhausted. The government is opposed to this because they want to avoid public immunity interest, which would give judges discretion to make some of the material public.

“Introduce a renewal clause to ensure the bill would have to be reviewed and approved in every parliament.”

The Justice and Security Bill owes its provenance to the torture case of Binyam Mohamed with the Government eager to inhibit further cases being heard in open court by introducing the so-called ‘secret courts’.

Andrew Tyrie MP, a staunch critic of the Bill tells the Guardian:

“The principle that you should be able to bust out what the other side are saying about your plea is so deeply entrenched in British and Anglo-Saxon justice it is amazing it is going more or less on the nod.

“You have only got to think about all those countries that do have secret courts to see why we don’t really want to join their club. There are about 130 run by dictators – Russia has secret courts.”

Tyrie has criticized the Bill’s measures as ‘tools of a dictatorship’.

A number of human rights lawyers aligned to the Liberal Democrats have resigned their party membership over the party’s support for the Bill.

The Home Office today publishes the quarterly update to September 2012 on the ‘Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 and subsequent legislation: Arrests, outcomes and stops and searches’.

Detailing outcomes further to the date of publication of the previous quarterly report to June 2012, the data released today shows:

“There were 245 persons arrested in Great Britain for a terrorism-related offence.

“Of those arrested, 45 persons were charged for a terrorism-related offence.”

The figure, 245, relates to persons arrested in the 12 months to September 2012.

“Of those arrested and charged for a terrorism-related offence, 18 were convicted and 25 were awaiting prosecution (as at 18 Jan 2013).

“On 30 September 2012 there were 134 persons in prison custody for terrorism-related and extremist offences in Great Britain.”

On the use of stop and search powers under Section 43 the data shows:

“The Metropolitan Police Service conducted 720 stops and searches under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in the year ending 30 September 2012, a fall of 41 per cent on the 1,211 in the previous year.”

Stop and search powers under Section 44 were abrogated with the introduction of section 47A in the Protection of Freedoms Bill 2010 following the legal ruling by the European Court on Human Rights which found the former powers in violation of human rights on privacy and anti-discrimination. The quarterly update shows that under Section 47A

“There has, as yet, been no use of new stop and search powers under section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000 since they were formally brought into use on 18 March 2011.”

Detailing the ethnic breakdown of persons stopped under Section 43, the report reveals:

“Of the 720 persons searched under s43 of TACT in the year ending 30 September 2012, the highest proportion defined themselves as White (40%), followed by Asian or Asian British (34%), Black or Black British (11%), Chinese and ‘Other’ (5%) and finally Mixed (3%). Eight per cent did not state their ethnicity in the year ending 30 September 2012.

“The proportion of persons searched under s43 of TACT who defined themselves as White was four percentage points higher than the previous year. The proportion who defined themselves as Black also increased (by two percentage points) in the year ending 30 September 2012. The proportion who self-defined as Asian remained the same across the two years.”

The effectiveness of stop and search as a counter-terrorism measure continues to attract debate with the figures released today reinforcing earlier findings that only 5% of stop and search have resulted in an arrest.

The ENAR Shadow Reports on ‘Racism and related discriminatory practices’ in Europe with a special focus on Muslim communities, includes a section on counter-terrorism measures stating

“Muslim communities report that anti-terrorism policies and legislation contribute to a wider climate of hostility, fear and suspicion towards them”

The use of stop and search under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is currently under review after the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, urged a review of the policy and the “excessive enthusiasm” with which certain counter-terrorism powers were being used.

Reforming stop and search is one of the key pledges we sought from Police and Crime Commissioners in our manifesto for the PCC elections last November.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary is undertaking an inspection into the use of stop and search legislation by the 43 police forces in the UK, including an online survey for individuals who have been stopped and searched. If you have been stopped and searched, and are willing to help HMIC investigate if the police are being fair and following the rules when they stop and search people in the street, please fill in the survey here.

The European Network Against Racism yesterday published its shadow reports on ‘Racism and related discriminatory practices’ in Europe with a special focus on Muslim communities.

The UK Shadow Report highlights concerns relating to regress in equalities catered for in the 2010 Equalities Act with particular concerns raised over the “number of indicators of significant disadvantage for Muslims in the UK”, the effects on counter-terrorism measures under which Muslims are “disproportionately targeted” and thepersistently negative and prejudiced coverage of Muslims in the media”.

The UK Shadow Report explores racism and discrimination in relation to: employment, education, housing, health, access to goods and services, political participation, media, criminal justice, racist violence and crime, hate speech and counter-terrorism.

The report can be found here, and a press release on the situation of Muslims across the EU can be consulted here.

The Independent reports on Channel 4’s forthcoming programming schedule which may include the broadcast of morning prayers during Ramadan this year.

The paper reports that Channel 4 “is “in discussion” about airing morning prayers every day.

“A spokesperson said details were still being worked on, and it could be that prayers are “marked” rather than broadcast to viewers.

“Planned programmes include hearing from a range of British Muslims on how they cope with daily life during Ramadan, and the physical and spiritual effects of fasting.

“The shows will look at “whether [fasting Muslims] are feeling calm, frustrated, or energised without food and drink, and whether their day involves breaking up street brawls, carrying out brain surgery or caring for their children.””