The government has been urged to close a loophole in the law that allows extremists to operate with impunity, spreading hateful ideologies without fear of prosecution.
The Commission for Countering Extremism wants to see the introduction of a legal framework, enabling authorities to prosecute those who propagate harmful and hateful extremist views.
It said the “gaping chasm” in existing legislation meant many groups – from radical Islamists to far-right neo-Nazis – were able to spread hatred and radicalise others.
The commission – which was formed in the wake of the 2017 London Bridge attacks – said current legislation was focused on dealing with the threat of terrorism.
However, it meant that much extremist activity – so long as it did not cross a certain threshold – was not covered by the law.
It highlighted the case of the hate preacher Anjem Choudary who was thought to have motivated between 70 and 100 people to turn to terrorism over a number of years.
Choudary, described by authorities as the UK’s most prolific terrorist recruiter, managed to manipulate a grey area in the law, pumping out hateful rhetoric, while not committing a specific offence.
It was only when authorities uncovered evidence that he was encouraging support for the terrorist group Islamic State that they were finally able to mount a successful prosecution.
In its review, carried out by the UK’s former head of counter terrorism policing, Sir Mark Rowley, the commission said extremists were operating with impunity in a number of key areas.
Ministers are being urged to outlaw the glorification of terrorists and terrorist groups.
The commission said it had found online extremist messaging boards which glorified figures such as Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 hijackers, as well as far-right terrorists such as Anders Breivik, Brenton Tarrant and Thomas Mair.
Current legislation also means that collecting ISIS beheading videos, or forming neo-Nazi groups which praised Adolf Hitler and encouraged Holocaust denial was not illegal as long as it was not threatening, abusive or insulting.
Sir Mark said the scale and nature of the material that was freely available was “quite extraordinary”.
“During the course of conducting this review, I have been shocked and horrified by the ghastliness and volume of hateful extremist materials and behaviour which is lawful in Britain,” he said.
The former assistant commissioner added: “We see evidence now of increased numbers of very young people, kids 12, 13, 14 being drawn towards extremist ideologies.
“The law is aimed at hate crime, it’s aimed at terrorism, there’s nothing aimed at this problem and we need to approach it head on.
“With lots of careful caveats to protect legitimate freedom of expression. If we don’t take this on, this problem will continue to grow.”
The review’s findings have been backed by faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and the chair of Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board.
Two former prime ministers, Tony Blair and David Cameron have also issued their support.
Mr Blair said the proposals required serious consideration by the government.
“The balance between protecting civil liberties whilst remaining robust in our measures to tackle extremism is essential, and yet the evidence from this review suggests that extremists are able to operate with impunity because of a void in our legislation.
“At a time when extremism, especially amongst young people, is worryingly on the rise, this is an important contribution towards navigating a path through the complexities of what should and should not be legal in today’s liberal democracies.”
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David Cameron said: “The fact that someone like Anjem Choudary was able to radicalise and poison the minds of so many people with such tragic consequences for so long without apparently breaking the law demonstrates that the law needs changing.
“This report includes many such examples and helps to make the case for change. The government should act on this issue to ensure that we turn the tide in the battle on hateful extremism”.
The head of the commission, Sara Khan, said: “Not having a legal framework is just no longer an option. We are at a watershed moment.
“The problem is getting worse. We feel that the government does have a responsibility to address this.”
The report said that it should be possible to set a “high legal bar” – linked to intent and specific serious harms – to ensure that freedom of expression is protected in any new legislation.
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