Mon, 19 Mar 2007

Terrorism definition, plus ca change

Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C. Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has published a 52-page report titled The Definition of Terrorism (Crown copyright). Here are his conclusions:
86. My main conclusions are as follows:
(1) There is no single definition of terrorism that commands full international approval.
(2) The risks posed by terrorism and its nature as crime are sufficient to necessitate proportional special laws to assist prevention, disruption and detection.
(3) A definition of terrorism is useful as part of such laws.
(4) The current definition in the Terrorism Act 2000 is consistent with international comparators and treaties, and is useful and broadly fit for purpose, subject to some alteration.
(5) Idiosyncratic terrorism imitators should generally be dealt with under non-terrorism criminal law.
(6) The discretion vested in the authorities to use or not to use the special laws is a real and significant element of protection against abuse of rights.
(7) The exercise of such discretion requires especial care by those in whom the discretion is vested.
(8) New sentencing powers should be introduced to enable an additional sentence for ordinary criminal offences, if aggravated by the intention to facilitate or assist a terrorist, a terrorist group or a terrorist purpose.
(9) Offences against property should continue to fall within the definition of terrorist acts.
(10) Religious causes should continue to fall within the definition of terrorist designs.
(11) The existing law should be amended so that actions cease to fall within the definition of terrorism if intended only to influence the target audience; for terrorism to arise there should be the intention to intimidate the target audience.
(12) The existing definition should be amended to ensure that it is clear from the statutory language that terrorism motivated by a racial or ethnic cause is included.
(13) Extra-territoriality should remain within the definition in accordance with international obligations.
(14) A specific statutory defence of support for a just cause is not practicable.
(15) A new statutory obligation should require that the exercise of the discretion to use special counter-terrorism laws in relation to extra-territorial matters should be subject to the approval of the Attorney-General having regard to (a) the nature of the action or the threat of action under investigation, (b) the target of the action or threat, and (c) international legal obligations.
(16) The law should not be amended to enable the use in the United Kingdom of the special laws against persons subject to diplomatic immunity.
With the possible exception of (11), Lord Carlile adopts a very prudent approach and dismisses, sometimes even abruptly, the issues he is aware of.
62. The fundamental tests applied are to be found in the 24 pages of the Code of Practice for Crown Prosecutors. It is possible, though far from easy, to challenge some prosecutorial decisions by judicial review. The continuation of jury trial provides an important protection against prosecutions the public find unreasonable or arbitrary. Current dilution of jury trial is understandable where there is a real risk of the jury process being contaminated by corruption or intimidation, infection of the jury process itself. Otherwise the jury remains the jewel in our criminal justice system. Mistakes will occur from time to time in that system, including decisions to prosecute. However, the discretion exercised by the prosecutor should not be discarded lightly on the basis that one day a seriously malign government may come to power and arbitrariness will become the order of the day. That view, expressed to me occasionally by sophisticated commentators, is one I reject.
Let's pass on how mistakes can seriously adversely affect the life of individuals. It would have been welcome to discover the rationales by which Lord Carlile rejects that view. My understanding of the legal system is that most laws survive the government that introduces them, so having a set of over broad laws being passed by a government considered benign can create just the tools needed by a seriously malign government. The Terrorism Act in itself, even with too broad definitions, is possibly not a major risk in and of itself, but combine it with, for instance, the National Identity Register that will be build as a result of the Id Card Act, and the National DNA Database, and you can see how the risks are magnified.

I also find this report disappointing in how it explains that basically we can't improve much as we're bound by international treaties that are possibly as bad but that we can't change. There's a bit of a circular logic which feels like an easy excuse. This is used for the 'Nelson Mandela test' and for ensuring that state sponsored terrorism remains safe.

(I noticed the publication of this report via SpyBlog's analysis of it.)

At the same time the Islamic Human Rights Commission points out:
The Islamic Human Rights Commission is very concerned by the latest terror statistics published by the Home Office according to which, of 1126 arrests made under the Terrorism Act 2000, only 211 have been charged with terrorism offences with only 40 of those convicted.

IHRC notes that the anti-terror laws are so broad that what would normally be considered as relatively minor offences have been included in the 40 successful terror convictions. For example, the statistics include convictions of individuals for wearing badges bearing the logo of proscribed organisations related to the conflict in Northern Ireland, such as the UVF.
I briefly commented on these statistics in Not enough innocents arrested, let's do an ad campaign.

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