Emergency legislation introduced in Parliament will end the automatic early release of terrorist offenders as the Conservative Government takes decisive action to protect the public and keep our streets safe. The urgent laws, unveiled by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC MP, will ensure terrorist offenders cannot be released before the end of their sentence without a thorough risk assessment by the Parole Board, with those considered still a threat to public safety forced to spend the rest of their time in prison.
The new rules will apply to offenders sentenced for crimes such as training for terrorism, membership of a proscribed organisation and the dissemination of terrorist publications.
The move will end the current automatic half-way release for offenders who receive standard determinate sentences. Instead, they will be forced to spend a minimum of two-thirds of their term behind bars before being referred to the Parole Board for consideration.
It will mean around 50 terrorist prisoners already serving affected sentences will see their automatic release halted.
Buckland said: “No dangerous terrorist should be released automatically only to go on to kill and maim innocent people on our streets. Enough is enough. This Government will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe, including making sure no terror offender is released early without a thorough risk assessment by the Parole Board. We are not stopping there. We’re stepping-up de-radicalisation measures in our prisons, introducing a 14-year minimum for the worst terrorist offenders and giving more money to the police to deal with these horrific crimes.”
In addition to the Bill, the Government will ensure that when a terrorist offender is released they will be subject to robust safeguards, which could include notification requirements, restrictions on travel and communications and imposed curfews.
The Bill delivers on the Government’s commitments following the senseless attack in Streatham, with ministers acting swiftly to prevent another terrorist being released early.
Spreading hateful ideologies
Home Secretary Priti Patel commented: “Recent months have been a stark reminder of the threat we continue to face from terrorism. We’re determined to ensure that dangerous terrorists are not free to spread their hateful ideologies or harm the public. We are already boosting funding for counter-terrorism police and victims of terrorism and this legislation will ensure terrorist offenders are not released early unless there has been a full assessment of the risks.”
Most serious terror offences already attract extended sentences, which require an offender to be referred to the Parole Board before they can be considered for release before the end of their sentence. The worst cases receive life sentences and may never be released.
However, those who serve what’s known as ‘standard determinate sentences’ are released automatically at the half-way point. This means that authorities are powerless to prevent a release even if an offender continues to display concerning behaviour.
The emergency legislation will prevent that from happening and make sure terrorist offenders are assessed by the Parole Board, who have the powers and expertise to examine sensitive evidence about the specific risks that terrorists pose to public safety.
Counter-Terrorism Sentencing Bill
The Government’s announcement builds on recent action by ministers to strengthen the response to terrorism following the Fishmongers’ Hall attack at London Bridge. This includes plans for a new Counter-Terrorism Sentencing Bill to be introduced in the coming months which will:
*introduce tougher sentences for the most serious terrorist offenders and a 14-year minimum for the worst terrorist offenders
*remove the possibility of any early release from custody for serious dangerous terrorist offenders who receive an Extended Determinate Sentence
*introduce measures to strengthen licence supervision for terrorist offenders, with longer periods on licence following release
*introduce Polygraph testing for terrorist offenders on licence
Finally, the Government will review whether the current maximum penalties and sentencing framework for terrorist offences is indeed sufficient or comprehensive on the underlying principle that terrorist offenders should no longer be released until the Parole Board is satisfied that they’re no longer a risk to the public
Response from Liberty
Liberty, the Human Rights-focused organisation, has responded to the proposed Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill 2019-2020, which is being debated in the House of Commons on Monday 17 February.
Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty, commented: “This Bill is a bid to make ministers look tough on terror, while neatly hiding the fact that their counter-terror strategy is failing. It’ss just the latest distraction technique from a Government that wants to shirk accountability.”
Comyn continued: “These changes will apply to people convicted of offences that shouldn’t even be criminalised in the first place, from clicking once on content deemed likely to be useful to a terrorist through to travelling overseas to anywhere the Home Secretary designates.”
In conclusion, Comyn stressed: “Knee-jerk laws like these not only chip away at our civil liberties, but they also don’t make us any safer. We need counter-terror measures that are evidence-based and designed with the freedom and safety of our communities at their heart.”