INDEPENDENT REVIEWER OF TERRORISM LEGISLATION
REPORT ON THE TERRORISM ACTS
The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson Q.C., publishes his annual report today on the operation in 2011 of the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006. The report has been submitted to the Home Secretary and laid before Parliament.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE REPORT
• The risk posed by Al-Qaida related terrorism in the United Kingdom remains real, but should not be overstated.
o While some plots were detected in 2011, arrests, charges and convictions for terrorist offences in Great Britain have all declined markedly since the middle of the last decade.
o The victims of the 2005 London bombings remain the only people ever to have been killed by al-Qaida related terrorism in the UK.
o According to Europol, no al-Qaida affiliated or inspired attacks were carried out in EU Member States during 2011 – though the UK was said to remain a constant target.
• In Northern Ireland, terrorism continued to pose a serious threat in 2011, with multiple attacks on national security targets and the killing of PSNI Constable Ronan Kerr. Northern Ireland-related terrorism however operates on a tiny scale by historic standards; and of the 49 deaths attributed to the security situation in the 10 years to March 2012, only 10 were in the second half of that period.
• The perception of a reducing terrorist threat (at least in Great Britain) has caused the counter-terrorism laws to be cautiously re-assessed in recent years, particularly since the arrival of the Coalition Government. A matching re-assessment of the structure of counter-terrorism policing has been postponed until after the Olympics, but is likely to take place thereafter.
• Recalibration of the Terrorism Acts since 2010 has already brought about (in addition to the abolition of control orders and their replacement by TPIMs, discussed in my last report of March 2012):
o reduction of the 28-day period of detention before charge to 14 days
o repeal of the section 44 no-suspicion stop and search power, which was used more than 250,000 times in the single year 2008/09. The conditions for using the replacement power are so difficult to satisfy that it was not used at all, even during major public events such as the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
o More stringent conditions on the retention of fingerprints and DNA.
These changes amount to a cautious rebalancing in favour of liberty. In my judgement they do not materially increase the risk from terrorism.
• I have identified other rules in relation to which I believe that a cautious rebalancing could be achieved without materially increasing the risk from terrorism. These are:
o The rules governing the proscription of organisations
o The rules governing detention of suspected terrorists
o Schedule 7 stops at ports and airports by ports officers exercising their power to determine whether travellers are terrorists.
• This report summarises the observations I have made of the use of these powers in practice, and makes recommendations in relation to each of them. In particular, it recommends that:
o Groups should only remain proscribed when they are currently involved in terrorism, or taking steps to become involved, and when banning them can be of real utility in protecting the public from terrorism.
o Consideration should be given to making bail available to those detained under the Terrorism Acts, so that peripheral players who pose no risk to public safety need not be kept in detention, and a charging decision would not have to be reached within 14 days.
o There should be a public consultation and review of the Schedule 7 power, preceded by the release of as much information as possible about its use. In that context:
• Those who oppose the power or its exercise are encouraged to lodge complaints for independent adjudication, and to contribute fully to that consultation.
• Those seeking to justify the power in its current form are encouraged to adduce evidence as why its more controversial elements are necessary. These include the stopping and examination of travellers without specific intelligence, the compulsion to answer questions and the ability to detain for up to nine hours without special authorisation.
David Anderson Q.C. said:
"The threat from both al-Qaida related and Northern Ireland related terrorism is a real one. To meet it, we have some of the most extensive and effective counter-terrorism laws in the world. All the more need to keep them under review so that they impinge no further than is necessary on individual liberty.
After a year spent studying the operation of the Terrorism Acts around the country, I have identified three respects in which I believe that change could be considered without diminishing their operational effectiveness. These are the rules governing the proscription of organisations, the detention of terrorist suspects and the examination of passengers at our ports and airports for the purpose of determining whether they are terrorists."
David Anderson Q.C. is a barrister practising from Brick Court Chambers in London. He was appointed to the post of Independent Reviewer by the Home Secretary with effect from 21 February 2011, in succession to Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C. who performed the role for more than nine years.
The Independent Reviewer combines complete independence from Government with unrestricted access, based on a very high degree of security clearance, to documents and to personnel within Government, the police and the security services. He travels widely to all parts of the United Kingdom, listening to those who devise, enforce, apply, oppose or are otherwise affected by the UK's terrorism laws.
He can be contacted through his clerks on 020 7379 3550 or by email on email@example.com. His website, where further background and all the reports of the Independent Reviewer can be found, is http://terrorism-legislation-reviewer.independent.gov.uk.