New Counter-Terrorism Bill prompts civil liberty concerns

Police officers on counter-terrorism duty.
The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill marks the largest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades.

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14-year minimum jail terms for most dangerous terror offenders

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill entered parliament yesterday and, in the MoJ’s words, “marks the largest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades.”

It will end early release for terror offenders who receive Extended Determinate Sentences, where the maximum penalty was life, and force them to serve their whole term in jail.

It will also see the most dangerous offenders – those found guilty of serious terror offences such as the worst examples of preparing acts of terrorism – handed a minimum 14-year prison term and up to 25 years on licence.

The Bill will also allow the courts to consider if any serious offence is terror-related, for example an offence involving firearms where there is a proven terrorist connection, and allow tougher sentences to be imposed.

This would rule out any possibility of a serious terror offender being released automatically before the end of their sentence.

Key measures of the Bill include:

  • a new ‘Serious Terrorism Sentence’ for dangerous offenders with a 14-year minimum jail term and up to 25 years spent on licence
  • ending early release for the most serious offenders who receive Extended Determinate Sentences – instead the whole time will be served in custody
  • increasing the maximum penalty from 10 to 14 years for a number of terror offences, including membership of a proscribed organisation
  • ensuring a minimum period of 12 months on licence for all terror offenders as well as requiring adult offenders to take polygraph tests
  • widening the list of offences that can be classed as terror-related to ensure they carry tougher sentences
  • boosting the monitoring and disruption tools available to the security services and counter-terrorism police, by strengthening Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures and supporting the use of Serious Crime Prevention Orders in terrorism cases.

The Bill comes in the wake of the attacks at Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham last winter and follows emergency legislation passed in February which retrospectively ended automatic early release for terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences. This forced them to spend a minimum two-thirds of their term behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board.

Details of the bill include:

  • Terrorist offenders who do not receive an Extended Determinate Sentence will no longer be eligible for a Standard Determinate Sentence and will instead be sentenced to a Sentence for Offenders of Particular Concern –  meaning they will be subject to a minimum licence period of 12 months after being released from custody, even if they spend the full custodial term in custody.
  • The maximum penalty for the following offences will increase from 10 to 14 years – membership of a proscribed organisation, supporting a prescribed organisation, attending a place used for terrorist training.  
  • Changes to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) Act 2011 through this Counter Terrorism Bill will:
    • Lower the standard of proof standard for imposing a TPIM notice
    • Specify new measures that can be applied to TPIM subjects
    • Remove the maximum length for which a TPIM can last (currently set at 2 years) so they can be renewed indefinitely – subject to review, including consideration that they remain necessary
    • Allow a TPIM’s relocation measure to be varied to ensure the efficient and effective use of resources
  • Amend the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 so that a court can find any offence with a maximum penalty of more than two years to have a terrorist connection
  • Remove the current statutory deadline for an independent review of the Prevent programme, while maintaining the legislative commitment to undertake it, to ensure the that new Reviewer has sufficient time to complete the Review. The aim will be to do so by August 2021.

counter-terrorism-bill

Concerns

Civil liberties campaigners have identified a number of concerns including:

  • Lowering the standard of proof for suspected terrorist activity from “balance of probabilities” to “reasonable grounds”
  • Removing the two-year cap on the use of terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims). Tpims are controversial and resource-heavy measures – usually based on secret intelligence – for controlling the risk presented by terrorism suspects at large where criminal prosecution is not an option.

There are also concerns that if the Bill goes through while parliament is still operating in its current COVID-19 format, it will not receive the usual level of scrutiny required for legislation of this order. 

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