*Update 29th April* This Bill has now received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament
Following several truly horrific terrorist incidents on our shores over the last decade, it is fitting i update constituents on this legislation, in the week which marks four years since the tragic Westminster attacks. A terrorist drove a car into innocent pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and Bridge Street, injuring more than 50 people, four of them fatally. He then ran into New Palace Yard, where he fatally stabbed an unarmed police officer, PC Keith Palmer. His great sacrifice will never be forgotten.
In 2019, this Government vowed to implement legislation which would ensure the most serious terrorist offenders stay imprisoned for a longer period of time, befitting of their awful crimes, while also giving authorities an appropriate length of time to rehabilitate the individual.
This comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism Sentencing Bill, which will better protect the public from terrorism, by strengthening the law which governs the sentencing, release and monitoring of terrorism offenders. Specifically, it will enable longer sentences for terrorist offenders; revise the scheme for imposing Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs); and allow polygraph testing on terrorist offenders.
Following the attacks in 2019 and 2020, the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 was passed as emergency legislation, in order to change release arrangements for certain terrorist offenders (in England and Wales and Scotland). This legislation builds on this initial, important step.
There were several proposed amendments from the House of Lords, which we voted on earlier this week and, in the words of my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Chris Philip MP:
“I think we have now arrived at a good set of measures, which will protect the public while also respecting and protecting fundamental rights. I therefore commend these amendments to the House.
“The Bill is a very important measure. It constitutes decisive action to keep our fellow citizens safe from the scourge of terrorism. We saw in Streatham, at Fishmongers’ Hall and elsewhere how much of a threat former terrorist prisoners can pose on release. The Bill is designed to protect the public from those risks. I commend it to the House.”
To read the full Hansard transcript from Monday’s debate on the amendments in the House of Commons, which also shows which amendments were agreed to, please visit https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-03-22/debates/D5805DB5-9A0C-4A5A-8520-825F88717015/Counter-TerrorismAndSentencingBill?highlight=counter-terrorism%20sentencing%20bill#contribution-1AB63309-7F06-4CEF-B2EB-FCF582F94ADE
Finally, I want to outline some more specifics about this Bill for constituents:
- It will introduce a new sentence for terrorist offenders; the “serious terrorism sentence”, made up of a minimum of 14 years in custody and a 7 to 25-year period of extended licence. Courts would be required to impose the sentence for specified offences where certain conditions are met unless exceptional circumstances apply.
- Remove the possibility of release at the two thirds point of the custodial part of an extended sentence for relevant terrorist offenders and provide that offenders serving a serious terrorism sentence cannot be released until the end of the custodial part of their sentence.
- Increase from 10 to 14 years the maximum sentence available for the offences of: membership of a proscribed organisation, inviting or expressing support for a proscribed organisation and attendance at a place used for terrorist training.
- Allow for any non-terrorist offence with a maximum sentence of over 2 years to be found to have a terrorist connection.
- Expand the list of offences which can result in an extended sentence and increase the maximum period of the extended licence for certain terrorist offenders from 8 to 10 years (in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, it is already 10 in Scotland).
- Expand the list of offences that can result in a Sentence for Offenders of Particular Concern (SOPC) and create new sentences, the equivalent of a SOPC, for Scotland and Northern Ireland and for under 18s UK wide.
- Provide for polygraph testing of certain terrorist offenders when released on licence.
- Revise the scheme for imposing Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) on those suspected of involvement in terrorism, by lowering the standard of proof required; expanding the range of measures available; and removing the two year time limit.
- Enable the police to apply for Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPOs) in terrorism cases.
- Remove the statutory deadline for conducting an independent review of the Prevent Strategy.