Skip to main content

Questioning Disruption in the Counter-Terrorism Fight


 By Martin Innes et al

In a brief article written for The Times Newspaper following the recent marauding terrorist attack near London Bridge, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley who is the UK police service national lead for counter-terrorism, revealed that Khuram Butt, the alleged ring-leader of the attackers, had previously been targeted by several disruptions. In so doing, Rowley validated one of the central claims of our article published in the June edition of Law and Society Review, where we highlighted the danger of police and intelligence services becoming overly-reliant upon disrupting violent extremists. 


Of course, our analysis had not predicted the specific details of the incident. But one of its central claims was that delivery of the Prevent strategy, part of the UK government’s wider counter-terrorism policy, was becoming heavily dependent upon a logic of disruption. Disruption is a form of prevention whereby interventions are designed to inhibit the possibilities of action without necessarily seeking a criminal prosecution. It has become increasingly prominent within UK counter-terrorism owing to a need to solve a ‘demand-supply’ tension, because the number of ‘subjects of interest’ about whom police and the intelligence services have concerns is outstripping the assets available to robustly monitor them. 


The tragic events that took place in London Bridge on the night of 3rd June showed that we were right to be concerned. Of course, the challenge is what can be done about such a situation? Violent extremism and its causes and consequences is a complex, multi-faceted and morphing form of social problem. One of the key lessons from the recent cluster of terrorist incidents across the UK has been that there is now a full spectrum of threats to be countered, ranging from sophisticated multi-actor plots, through to ostensibly self-radicalising lone actors who attack with brutal simplicity. As a consequence, there are sharp political disagreements about what is to be done in practical terms. 


Our article also pointed to what we referred to as ‘the legislative reflex’ – a tendency amongst politicians to assume that, in the wake of terrorist incidents and other major crime events, a solution can be found through introducing new legislation. At the time of writing this blog, we are seeing this ritualised response being brought forward once again, with the newly formed government vowing to review current counter-terrorism powers and bring forward new laws if needed, as a cornerstone of its programme for government. 


Whilst the research we conducted is not clear about what a more effective response to the kinds of ‘demand-supply challenges’ in counter-terrorism outlined above might be, it is probably not about new legal powers. More positively though, what our article does showcase is how evidence and insights from independent research on some of the ‘wicked problems’ that states grapple with can help to diagnose the limits of what they are doing.


Popular posts from this blog

On writing

By Susan Sterett
Law & Society Review Co-Editor

One thing I know for sure after having co-edited Law and Society Review for almost three years is that just about every college and university would like more publications from faculty members. Many colleges and universities around the world want people to write for peer-reviewed journals, so like other journals, Law and Society Review has been getting an increasing number of submissions. Some journals have big backlogs. Some journals have stopped accepting submissions. Everyone is overwhelmed with content. How can you prepare your paper for LSR? This post will point to a few resources that could help, based in my experience from editing, conversations with other editors, and my conversations at the wonderful 2017 sociolegal studies early career workshop at the University of Cape Town. All have made me rethink how I submit to journals.

A few thoughts, most of which are readily found on the internet. Even so, many people may no…

Law & Society Review is pleased to announce two opportunities for scholars who are from or who write about the Global South. Both opportunities have early January deadlines.

The first opportunity is the Sociolegal Studies Early Career Writing Workshop, March 21-23, 2019, at the University of Cape Town. This intensive workshop, co-sponsored by Law & Society Review, is for a small group of early career scholars from any university in Africa to receive feedback on papers in progress and mentoring on writing/publishing processes. The goal is to help one another toward writing goals and publication. The Workshop will cover travel expenses and accommodation. Applications (including draft paper and letter of reference) are due January 14, 2019. For details, please visit the Early Career Workshop website here. For additional questions, contact pbl-cls@uct.ac.za.

Another opportunity is the Law and Society in Africa conference, April 1-3, 2019, organized by American University Cairo's Law & Society Research Unit. The first Law and Society in Africa Conference, held in South Africa in 2016, was a great success, with more than 100 attendees…

How do text messages complicate contemporary sexual assault adjudication?

By Heather Hlavka and Sameena Mulla 
Department of Social and Cultural Sciences, Marquette University


“There’s no video, no injury. It’s purely one hundred percent ‘he said, she said.’ They had a terrible relationship. They were nasty to each other and they don’t get along well, probably never will. But there is no evidence to support the state’s case, other than their words.” Our article, “’That’s How She Talks’: Animating Text Message Evidence in the Sexual Assault Trial,” begins with these familiar words offered by a defense attorney during a sexual assault trial in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The oft-invoked trope of “he said, she said” in cases of sexual violence suggests that without third-party eye witness testimony or material evidence, sexual assault allegations rest on conflicting reports provided by victims, the accused, and other witnesses. But how do trial attorneys reinvent this trope when the words of the witnesses are preserved as text messages?

Text messages are recorded co…