Welcome to the website of the UK Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. I am proud to take over from my distinguished and rightly celebrated predecessor, David Anderson QC. Where he led the way in engaging with all sides in national and international discussion about terrorism and national security, so I hope to follow and to build upon David‚Äôs excellent work.
I attended Abror House in Crawford Place, London W1 for an evening event jointly organised by City Circle @thecitycircle and the Association of Muslim Lawyers, principally focussed on Prevent. I spoke alongside one of my Special Advisers and fellow barrister Hashi Mohamed @hm_hashi . We heard an impassioned but constructive plea from Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT, who argues that the statutory duty should be lifted from the education sector, upon the basis that teachers have long safeguarded their pupils and have no need of Prevent on a statutory footing. Many in the packed hall agreed, and there were others who contended the same in relation to the health sector. I was particularly pleased to hear from many individuals, who came to speak to me at the conclusion of the formal event and who provided valuable insight and recommendations for the future of terrorism legislation.
My speech included the ¬†following:
I start by telling you that I have been an independent, self-employed barrister for 30 years, and nothing has changed. I have not become a Minister, nor Home Office official, nor civil servant overnight. I have no contract of employment with the Government, the Home Office or any other ministry. I remain an independent lawyer and QC.
So to the essentials of¬† my new role.
The Independent Reviewer‚Äôs role is to monitor UK counter- terrorism legislation for its fairness, effectiveness and proportionality.
The essence of independent review lies in the combination of three concepts not often seen together:¬† complete independence from Government; unrestricted access to classified documents and national security personnel; and a statutory obligation on Government to lay the Independent Reviewer‚Äôs reports before Parliament on receipt.
Next, the single most significant event during my short seven weeks as Independent Reviewer, the Westminster attack, amounting to multiple murder by one individual.
I want to make the following brief points about this horrific act:
- Commenting too early about a terrorist incident is usually a mistake. I did not do so, restricting myself to a tweet and a single website post. I shall do my best not to be drawn into knee-jerk reaction to any future events.
- The first point is made good by two simple facts; so-called IS claimed the attacker as one of their own within 24 hours, but it turns out they thought he was another man, and they were wrong. Plus, some commentators chose to use the attack as evidence against UK immigration policy, until it was revealed that Masood was born in this country. Another serious mistake.
- Had he survived, in my view Masood would have been charged with 5 counts of Murder and many more of attempted Murder; in other words, prosecutors would have been unlikely to have needed the provisions of the Terrorism Acts.
- This means that there should not be any call for more terrorism offences in the wake of this attack, and I have been pleased to see that there is little if any lobbying to this effect.
- Whilst resisting hasty comment as in all other areas, there is a need for greater vigilance and efforts in the area of social media and online messaging. It is good to know that social media companies are setting up, as I understand it, a joint database for the removal of extremist materials. This is a much-needed initiative and I hope it will prove valuable. Creative solutions to the serious problem of extremist material and online propaganda do need to be found, but found without trampling upon fundamental freedoms including freedom of speech for all. We must all of us walk the line between freedom to express views which do not break our laws, and going so far that criminal offences are committed and action must be taken.
- Those who waited before commenting were able to see an efficient and timely investigation by the Police and others, leading to the conclusion that Masood acted alone. Worrying though this is, and it represents an alarming facet of the threat we face in this country at this time, it plainly does not call for any form of crackdown on communities around Britain. A more sophisticated approach is clearly needed.
- And finally for now, we should be grateful to note that the national threat level, which remains at severe, was not raised to critical at any stage either during or after the Westminster attack. This tells us that cool and calm heads were applied from the outset, and we should be grateful to our police and intelligence services for what they do.
Finally,¬†I remind you if you do not already know that strictly speaking Prevent is outside my remit. I am not the reviewer of Prevent, indeed there is none. You should neither expect me to speak for the Home Office about Prevent, not my job, nor to speak against it. I am here to listen to others views and I can promise nothing more than that.
That said, I do think it may be worthwhile calling to mind the¬†Joint Committee on Human Rights¬†Counter-Extremism Second Report of Session 2016 (published 20 July 2016)
I do so because I was booked to give evidence before the Joint Committee, sitting together with the Home Affairs Select Committee, next Wednesday 3rd May. This report was no doubt part of the agenda for that event, which has now been postponed because of the General Election and the dissolution of Parliament.¬† Nonetheless, I remind you of some of the
Conclusions and recommendations, tabled by the JCHR last July, at which time the political agenda included not only Prevent but also the prospect of a counter-extremism bill, albeit we have seen no recent sign of the latter.
May I remind you of the following nine conclusions and recommendations by the JCHR (and I then quoted from paragraphs 34, 35, 42, 50, 62, 63, 64, 74 and 75 of the JCHR Report).
I am, at this time, non-partisan in relation to Prevent and indeed counter-extremism, neither of which are directly engaged by the statutes which I review. However, it would be foolish to ignore the indirect impact of these issues, so I hope this reminder serves to promote discussion this evening.
It will not have escaped the notice of any regular visitor to this website that I have been slow to add regular updates on my activities as Independent Reviewer. I shall aim to do better. Having been in post for ten weeks since 1st March, here is my defence:
- The speed of my appointment, from announcement to being in post within one week, meant that existing court commitments had to be honoured until Easter. When my appointment was announced, I was engaged in defending a man charged with two Murders in Ipswich; a long trial requiring my full attention for the duration. One way of making it clear, perhaps, that my working life as a self-employed QC carries on although my predominant activity going forward is that of the Independent Reviewer.
- Stepping into my predecessor’s shoes is not entirely an overnight event. I have been working my way through introductory meetings throughout April and continuing this month. As you might imagine when thinking of IT hacks in the Health Service, gaining official access to systems at the Home Office and beyond is a cautious and lengthy process, still not complete.
- Alongside my induction to those aspects of Government, Police and intelligence services involved in counter-terrorism, I have developed ways of engaging far more widely so that I may be better informed before I come to review UK terrorism legislation. I am calling this community engagement. This has nothing to do with the Home Office, the Police or any other arm of UK plc, but relies upon non-governmental organisations, groups and individuals prepared to meet with me to talk about the impact of legislation upon citizens and communities around the country.
So much for the excuses. Since Easter, therefore during the last 4 weeks, I have been able to devote almost all of my time to meetings and travel connected with my new role. Alongside the inevitable concentration of people and places to see in London, I have been to Belfast, Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester and Oxford as Independent Reviewer, and I travel to Glasgow this week and Swansea next month. I want to express my thanks to everyone who has been prepared to come and share with me their views on our legislation as well as some of the wider policy issues and programmes, including Prevent obviously. I intend to publish my account of these community engagement events in some form as soon as possible. The delay is largely due to the General Election and therefore the suspension of Parliamentary business including the Committees of both Houses. I say this because, but for the Election I was looking forward to giving evidence to a joint sitting by the Home Affairs Committee and Joint Human Rights Committee on 3rd May, at which I could ¬†have relayed some of the views already being expressed to me on my travels around the country. There will be such opportunities, but we must await the new Parliament.
For now, I promise to provide a summary of recent past events and meetings as soon as possible.
The murderous actions of one individual on the streets of Westminster yesterday afternoon will be subjected to full scrutiny and investigation by our Police and intelligence services. It is vital that we await the outcome before any detailed comment.
I join with many others in offering deep respect to those who lost their lives, sympathy and condolence to their loved ones, and a prayer for the recovery of all who were injured.
It seems highly likely that what happened provides an unwelcome reminder of the existence of the threat from terrorism which we all face. However, the instant response by the Police and emergency services has been exemplary, and has been followed by the thorough investigation which is now underway.
I have no doubt that we will reflect on the events of yesterday for a long time to come. This tragedy can only serve to heighten our vigilance, and that of those who serve to protect us all.
Whilst awaiting developments from the ongoing investigation, my thoughts rest with those whose everyday lives were so shockingly interrupted yesterday afternoon.
A House of Commons Public Bill Committee has been set up in order to give detailed scrutiny¬†to the Investigatory Powers Bill that was unveiled on 1 March 2016 and given its second reading on 15 March.¬† A good deal of written evidence to that committee was published last week.
I was the first witness to be examined by the Public Bill Committee, on 24 March 2016.¬†¬†A¬† transcript of my 25-minute evidence has been published on the Committee’s website, and¬†most of it is captured on¬†video.
Later on 24 March, I submitted written evidence to the Public Bill Committee in order to¬†expand¬†upon some of the points touched on in my oral evidence and to raise some new points.¬† That written evidence is published here for the first time. Read more…
I leave the post of IRTL at the end of the month to make way for the very well-regarded¬†Max Hill QC, who was interviewed yesterday in the Evening Standard.¬† My last public engagement in the role will be oral evidence given on Tuesday to¬†Parliament’s Brexit Committee, on the theme of security cooperation and data-sharing,¬†for its¬†inquiry into the UK’s negotiating objectives ¬†for withdrawal from the EU.
I had hoped and expected that my final report, on Deportation with Assurances, would have been published and laid before Parliament by now.¬† Hopefully this will be achieved within a few days.¬† Watch this space.
There¬†have been quite a few retrospective pieces for media over the past few weeks: a selection is here.
Podcast of interview with Joshua Rozenberg for Law in Action, November 2016
Webcast interview with¬†Sally Bundock for the International Bar Association, November 2016
Asian Network Big Debate, with Shazia Awan, Feb 2017
Opinion piece for the Evening Standard on Prevent, Feb 2017
Interview with Sam Macrory for Prospect, Feb 2017
Profile by Peter Oborne for Middle East Eye, Feb 2017
Peston on Sunday, Feb 2017 (clip)
Lecture to RUSI (with a historical element) on terrorism, cohesion and national security, Feb 2017
A fuller account of my views on the anti-terrorism laws that are the principal focus of my reporting function is in my last annual report, published in December 2016.