Tougher sentences, an end to early release and a major review of the management of convicted terrorists are among a raft of measures that have been announced by the Conservative Government with a view to strengthening the UK’s response to terrorism.
Confirmed by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC, the new Counter-Terrorism Bill, which is set to be introduced in the first 100 days of the newly-elected Government, will force dangerous terrorist offenders who receive extended determinate sentences to serve the whole time behind bars and ensure those convicted of serious offences such as preparing acts of terrorism or directing a terrorist organisation spend a mandatory minimum of 14 years in prison.
The Counter-Terrorism Bill will also overhaul the terrorist licensing regime, doubling the number of specialist counter-terrorism probation officers and introducing measures such as polygraph testing. It will increase the number of places available in probation hostels such that authorities can keep closer tabs on terrorists in the weeks after they’re released from prison.
The Government will also review support available to the victims of terrorism, including families and loved ones. The Conservatives will immediately invest £500,000 to increase the support provided by the Victims of Terrorism Unit to ensure more victims receive the support and advice they need on a faster basis.
Facing hard truths
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The senseless terror attack at the Fishmongers’ Hall in London last November confronted us with some hard truths about how we deal with terrorist offenders, which is precisely why we immediately announced a review into sentencing and licence conditions to do whatever is necessary to stop these sickening attacks from taking place. We are delivering on those promises with the Counter-Terrorism Bill, giving police and probation officers the resources they need to investigate and track offenders, introducing tougher sentences and launching major reviews into how offenders are managed after they’re released. We will also review the support available for victims and their families to make sure they receive the help they need.”
The Government will also launch a sweeping independent review of the way different agencies, including the police, the probation service and the Security Services investigate, monitor and manage terrorist offenders. This will be referenced as the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) and led by Jonathan Hall QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
Funding for counter-terrorism policing will grow to £906 million in 2020 to 2021, representing a £90 million year-on-year increase. The money will support and maintain the record high number of ongoing counter-terrorism policing investigations and ensure a swift and effective response to terrorist incidents across the country, no matter where they take place.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland QC stated: “Terrorists pose a great risk to our society and our way of life, which is why we must bring them to justice and keep the public safe. Coupled with our strong measures to manage terrorists behind bars, this Counter-Terrorism Bill toughens restrictions on offenders’ communications, increases the number of specialist staff managing them and will ensure they are monitored effectively.”
Major shift in approach
Delivering on the Government’s commitments following the Fishmongers’ Hall attack, the announcement represents a major shift in the UK’s approach to the sentencing and management of terrorist offenders by closing gaps in the investigation and monitoring of convicted terrorists.
Alongside the Counter-Terrorism Bill, the Government is making a major investment in counter-terrorism resources in prisons and probation. The package of measures being announced includes:
*doubling the number of counter-terrorism specialist probation staff (these specially trained staff will deliver a set of new, intensive national standards for managing terrorists on licence which will mean terrorists are subjected to closer monitoring and reporting requirements)
*an increase in the number of specialist psychologists and specially trained Imams who play a vital role in assessing risk and challenging the beliefs of radicalised offenders
*an increase in the resources dedicated to training front line prison and probation staff who are the first line of defence in identifying and challenging extremism in prisons and within the probation service
Response from Liberty
Human Rights organisation Liberty has criticised the new counter-terror measures put forward by the Government.
Clare Collyer, Liberty’s advocacy director, observed: “These headline-grabbing announcements show the Government’s counter-terror agenda is in chaos, with ministers abandoning facts in their desperation to be seen to take action. Lie detectors and harsher sentences are knee-jerk policies which are untested, while continuing to introduce measures without review or evidence is questionable at best.”
Further, Collyer asserted: “It’s clear from these announcements, and the series of embarrassing gaffes in recent weeks – that the Government’s counter-terror agenda must be subject to thorough independent review. This must start with the Prevent strategy. From labelling people who are concerned about climate change as extremists, to having to remove the reviewer of Prevent because of a lack of impartiality, Prevent and the UK’s counter-terror agenda are now a serious threat, not only to our civil liberties, but also to our safety.”