David Anderson QC warns against overbroad anti-extremism laws

David Anderson QC

Proposals to ban extremism could cause a backlash among Muslims if they are ‘overbroad’ according to the independent terrorism watchdog.

David Anderson QC said badly-drafted legislation could help the cause of Islamic fundamentalists.

UK ministers are planning on introducing new powers to curtail the actions of people whose activities could lead to terrorist acts.

Among the proscribed activities will be extremist preaching as well as involvement in groups linked to Islamic fundamentalism.

Mr Anderson made the warnings after MI5’s new head, Andrew Parker, spoke to the BBC – justifying the new powers to intercept internet communications.

The plans are expected to include three key measures: a new Extremism Disruption Order to restrict certain individuals’ activities; the power to ban extremist groups; and closure orders to shut down premises used in extremist activities.

Specifically, the QC said there were 15 issues the government had to resolve in Parliament if the law was going to work.

Among these were a clear definition of extremism as well as an explanation of how extremism leads to terrorism and the effect measures will have on the relationship between the police and communities.

He said: “These issues matter because they concern the scope of UK discrimination, hate speech and public order laws, the limits that the state may place of some of our most basic freedoms, the proper limits of surveillance, and the acceptability of imposing suppressive measures without the protections of the criminal law.

“If the wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”

The independent terrorism reviewer also warned against “overbroad laws” that could affect people other than the targets.

“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,” he said.

“The benefits claimed for the new law - assuming that they can be clearly identified - will have to be weighed with the utmost care against the potential consequences, in terms of both inhibiting those freedoms and alienating those people.”