WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
July 13 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Rights groups criticise new extremism definition as ‘cynical’, ‘unworkable’ and ‘profoundly anti-democratic’

Rights groups criticise new extremism definition as ‘cynical’, ‘unworkable’ and ‘profoundly anti-democratic’

Parliament

The government has released a new definition of extremism which has been described by rights groups as ‘deeply cynical and completely unworkable’. Announcing the move, Michael Gove said it is necessary to meet the increasing threat from extremist ideologies.

Groups who satisfy the definition will be excluded from engaging with, and receiving funding from government departments. Liberty, alongside other critics, has argued that the new definition risks being ‘profoundly anti-democratic’.

The old definition identified extremism as ‘vocal or active opposition’ to certain listed ‘fundamental British values’. The new wording also defines an extremist group as one which actively promotes ideologies that threaten such values – including for instance the ‘fundamental rights and freedoms of others’ – but goes on to add that ‘intentionally creat[ing] a permissive environment for others to [promote such views]’ will now also be considered extremist.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner suggests the new definition is ‘too wide’ meaning that social media platforms, venues hosting speakers, and even universities ‘promoting a wide array of viewpoints’ risk falling under its purview.

Although the government has sought to assuage such fears by stating that ‘lawful expression of one’s beliefs … is not extremism’, the definition is non-statutory, and therefore designed to be applied by government departments.

Fears about the undemocratic nature of the new definition of extremism have been echoed elsewhere. The archbishops of Canterbury and York noted in a joint statement that the definition ‘inadvertently threatens freedom of speech’, and ‘risks disproportionately targeting Muslim communities, who are already experiencing rising levels of hate and abuse’.

Three former Tory home secretaries have warned against politicising extremism, issuing a joint statement in which they call for all parties to refrain from seeking to extract such ‘short-term tactical advantage’ from the issues posed by extremism in the run up to the next election.

No list of groups or individuals that are to fall under the new definition has yet been released although one is anticipated soon.

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