CTR Project Workshop

Today, the Counter-terrorism Review project team are holding an invitation-only stakeholder workshop at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, where we will present our preliminary research findings. We hope the participants will use their diverse experience and expertise to identify flaws in our findings and to test our proposals for reform of counter-terrorism review in the UK.

Prior to the workshop we identified ‘credibility’, ‘manifoldness’ and ‘listening and openness’ as three themes (in no particular order) arising from our research which warrant further discussion. We reproduce a condensed version of each theme below and the questions we will be discussing during the workshop.  If you have any thoughts on these themes, please comment below.


Counter-terrorism review operates across a broad network of actors, with multiple review types and multiple potential audiences for review. As such, there is a complex matrix of potential relationships, often operating concurrently, which affect a review’s potential to have practical impact. These include formal relationships between review mechanisms and the bodies whose operations are being reviewed, and between the review mechanism and the authority that mandated the review (like the Government); but also include informal relationships where review mechanisms interact outside the formal relationship and with the wider audiences for review such as the public, the media, and civil society (where civil society can be both a review mechanism and an audience).

For each review mechanism, the credibility of a particular review mechanism is key, both in terms of the individuals who comprise the review mechanism (whether individual, group, or committee) and in terms of the review process itself.  Credibility, the quality of being trusted and believed, may be mutable, varying over time through personnel and political changes as well as across review mechanisms.  Indeed, the perceived credibility of a review mechanisms may change depending on who is reading and assessing the output of a review mechanism.

  1. Why is credibility important to review?
  2. What constitutes or builds credibility for a review/er?
  3. Might a review be credible even if the reviewer is perceived as having diminished credibility and vice versa? What factors influence this?
  4. What are the implications of divergences in perceptions of credibility of the same review/er across different relationships within the matrix described above?


Counter-terrorism review in the UK can be described as manifold because it is many and varied in terms of actors, scope, and depth. Executive, legislative, judicial, independent, or internal actors, as well as civil society and international human rights (IHR) organisations can and have undertaken reviews. While there may be a multitude of reviews and mechanisms not every avenue for review is undertaken to the same depth nor every power reviewed to the same extent.  Indeed, not every avenue for review is operational or utilised.   As such, manifoldness characterises counter-terrorism review’s unstructured sprawl.

To give a sense of this, we compared the review of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) and the Prevent duty, two measures at either end of the preventive scale. While both measures have several potential routes to review, the Prevent duty, unlike TPIMs, has no fixed periodic executive review, no sunset clause or fixed periodic debate.  Mandated legislative review for Prevent is largely limited to the technical intricacies of the affirmative resolution procedure and those referred through Prevent and on through Channel appear not to have established review through the courts or found traction for their claims.  Internal industry specific reporting varies in scope and application.  From these examples, we can suggest that even where review might give the appearance of breadth it is nevertheless uneven. Perhaps this is because different questions need different answers, meaning manifoldness could be necessary and productive.  Manifoldness might enable detailed and focused consideration from a range of perspectives using a variety of (appropriate) approaches which can take account of the security context in which counter-terrorism takes place.

  1. Does manifoldness facilitate or constrain the review process (why and how)?
  2. Does manifoldness challenge, clarify, or duplicate responsibility? Does overlap hide or minimise gaps in review?
  3. Does manifoldness inhibit capture?
  4. Would an overseer who can assess the whole landscape of counter-terrorism review be helpful?  Is that the role of Parliament?

Listening and openness

Alongside credibility and manifoldness, the context within which questions about openness and listening sit is one in which the politics of counter-terrorism plays a key role. In this respect two sets of factors are in tension. The first relates to perceptions of political hazard relating to the specific political and moral costs of error in the counter-terrorism context, and public and media perceptions of in/action in response to terrorist threats. The second relates to the construction of a counter-terrorism/security rhetoric in which a certain approach to security is prioritised and counter-terrorism review mechanisms drawing attention to different approaches to security, often those that are more rights enhancing, are disregarded or deprioritised.

In this context ensuring a wide variety of counter-terrorism reviews are heard is challenging. This appears to be less a question of the design of counter-terrorism review mechanisms (in particular how and to whom they report) and more a question of how to ensure that those who set the agenda for counter-terrorism (e.g. government, police, and the security and intelligence services) are open to listening to the manifold reviews available to them when they bear the moral responsibility to protect against the risk of a terrorist attack. Allied to this is the related question of how to ensure openness on the part of reviewers to listening to a multitude of diverse voices within the counter-terrorism review process to protect against the reification and perpetuation of only certain types of knowledge.

  1. How can a diverse set of views (including potentially views perceived to be unpalatable) be incorporated into the review process?
  2. How might we ensure that the government is receptive to listening to (and hearing) counter-terrorism reviews, particularly in the absence of media interest or a necessity borne out of politics?
  3. How can counter-terrorism review mechanisms work together to be heard? How do they already do this, if at all?

We hope the workshop will be a constructive and open space in which to discuss our findings so far.  We are grateful to the attendees for their willingness to engage with us.

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