In her speech to the Conservative party conference on 30 September, the Home Secretary Rt Hon Theresa May MP announced new proposals for Banning Orders and Extremism Disruption Orders
‘I want to see new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the existing laws relating to terrorism. I want to see new civil powers to target extremists who stay just within the law but still spread poisonous hatred. So both policies – Banning Orders and Extremism Disruption Orders – will be in the next Conservative manifesto.’
While the detail of these proposals is not yet known, briefing documents sent to the press show these orders could be used to ban individuals from appearing in the media; restrictions on the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of expression for groups deemed ‘extremist’ and new curbs on access to the internet. It is possible these orders will be applied to individuals without a judicial process, an especially concerning development. These new powers will not just apply to those who are in breach of anti-terrorist legislation, but to anyone the Home Secretary deems ‘extremist’. It is unclear how this term will be defined and the lower threshold from the already broad wording of the Terrorism Act 2000 could capture entirely legitimate political speech.
Jo Glanville, the Director of English PEN said:
‘We have real concerns that Theresa May is about to launch an assault on free speech in this country. As the government’s own independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has already said that the UK’s anti-terrorism legislation is so broad it can criminalise legitimate political speech, there seems no justification whatsoever to make the bar on speech even broader. Banning people from speaking in public who merely offend is unjustifiable in an open and democratic society – we may object to the views of fringe groups on the right or left, but to silence their voices is censorship.’
English PEN is concerned that these proposals are likely to restrict legitimate freedom of expression in the UK and set a dangerous precedent for governments globally.