In response to media coverage this weekend, I realise that I failed to load onto this site the full content of my speech on terrorism and social media, delivered to a conference at Swansea University on 28th June. My apologies. It follows:

 

There can be no doubt  that social media plays a pivotal role in communication between those intent on terrorism, just as it is pivotal in the daily lives of most of us as we go about our lawful business. In that simple truth lies the dilemma which we face at this Conference. We all deplore the outbreaks of terrorist violence we have witnessed in four vicious attacks since March 22nd this year, the most recent of the four emanating from Wales, though there is little more we can say now that the case has been charged and is before the courts. We should remember, however, that five terrorist plots were successfully disrupted by the Police and security services during the same period, the last three months. And we all come together with renewed determination to face down the menace of modern terrorism. Where these awful crimes are facilitated by the use of social media, we want to close down the criminals ability to communicate. And yet, we must recognise that policing the internet, and controlling social media comes at a very high price if it interferes with the freedom of communication which every citizen enjoys, and which is also enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Let us go straight to the limiting provision within Article 10, remembering that freedom of expression is not a fundamental right. Article 10(2) reads: The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime’ etc etc.

So, have we reached the point at which we need to legislate for further interference with Article 10?

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Here is the full text of my speech delivered yesterday at the National Liberal Club. The full title of the event was ‘Dogma or Demons? The media’s portrayal of a modern terrorist’.

During the Coroner’s Inquests into the London Bombings of 7 July 2005, there was a dispute concerning photographs and videos taken on board the Underground trains in which so many died or sustained serious injuries. For a twenty-first century event, the unusual feature of 7/7 was that with the exception of the Number 30 bus which was bombed in Tavistock Square, the atrocity occurred underground. Therefore, the outside world did not see images of the awful carnage beneath our streets.

When it came to the public Inquests four years later, media representatives understandably assumed that they would be able to publish whatever images were viewed by the Coroner. The understanding was that all evidence viewed in Court 73 of the High Court would be uploaded onto the Inquest Intranet and thence to their website for all to see. A Protocol dated October 2005 had been  reached between the DPP, Chief Police Officers and the Media companies all working on the assumption that material once seen in court could be seen by all. The Protocol includes the following :  The aim of the CPS is to ensure that the principle of open justice is maintained – that justice is done and seen to be done – while at the same time balancing the rights of defendants to a fair trial with any likely consequences for victims or their families and witnesses occasioned by the release of prosecution material to the media. Prosecution material which has been relied upon by the Crown in court [and which] should normally be released to the media .

Not so in this important aspect of the 7/7 Inquests. There was lengthy and principled argument on all sides, citing decided cases all the way back to Scott v Scott in 1913, in which Lord Diplock said: ‘As a general rule the English system of administering justice does require that it be done in public’ [Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417].  From there we went to AG v Leveller Magazine in 1979 [AC 440] ‘If the way that courts behave cannot be hidden from the public ear and eye this provides a safeguard against judicial arbitrariness or idiosyncrasy and maintains the public confidence in the administration of justice. The application of this principle of open justice has two aspects: as respects proceedings in the court itself it requires that they should be held in open court to which the press and public are admitted … As respects the publication to a wider public of fair and accurate reports of proceedings that have taken place in court the principle requires that nothing should be done to discourage  this.’ ‘However, since the purpose of the general rule is to serve the ends of justice it may be necessary to depart from it where the nature or circumstances of the particular proceeding are such that the application of the general rule in its entirety would frustrate or render impracticable the administration of justice or would damage some other public interest for whose protection Parliament has made some statutory derogation from the rule’

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Along with everyone else, I woke this morning to the news of what happened near Finsbury Park Mosque around midnight. Any loss of life or injury is a matter of the deepest regret, and my thoughts are with all who are affected by this incident.

There is a difference between this incident and the three which preceded it, namely Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena and London Bridge. The difference is NOT between crime and terrorism, but between dead attackers who cannot stand trial as opposed to one who was taken into custody so we all await a charging decision and any trial thereafter.

There is a need for ‘avoiding a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice.. in any proceedings..pending or imminent’ – in the words of section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. For this reason the media and all other commentators will have to exercise care in how the Finsbury Park incident is reported, today and in future.

However, as has already been made clear by the Metropolitan Police and by the Home Secretary, this incident is being investigated by the Counter Terrorism Command, and rightly so. If evidence proves that what happened last night amounted to the ‘use or threat of action…designed to influence…a section of the public…for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause’ – in the words of section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000, then that is terrorism.

Muslim worshippers leaving the Mosque after prayers during the holy month of Ramadan are unquestionably part of the British public. I was privileged to join over one thousand worshippers in one of the largest Mosques in Manchester ten days ago, and I hope to do the same at Finsbury Park Mosque in future, if I may. Early reports from the scene last night and this morning suggest that considerable bravery came into play in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and I applaud those members of the Mosque community who acted with such restraint. If their actions lead to a full public trial at which all of the evidence of this crime is examined in court, we all owe our gratitude.

Meanwhile, for the reasons given above, I maintain my approach to all such incidents; I leave it for politicians and the Police to make immediate comment, and I will add anything I can properly say after a little more time has elapsed.

My thoughts are with those currently in hospital.

In response to my post earlier this evening, I have been asked for the text of my Commentary published in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, on 28th May. I repeat it below, with an apology for the fact that – although I was careful to refer to JTAC’s reasoning on two occasions – it is strictly incorrect to say that the Prime Minister sets the national threat level, as that it the responsibility of JTAC itself.

This week, for the first time in a decade, it proved necessary to elevate the national threat level from severe to critical, meaning that an attack was thought to be imminent.
 This heavy decision was taken by the Prime Minister and others in the immediate aftermath of the atrocity at the Manchester Arena on Monday.
A comparison can be drawn with the position after the Westminster Bridge attack in March. At the time, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) rightly assessed that Khalid Masood had acted alone and it was not therefore necessary to go to critical.
This week, however, JTAC correctly reasoned that the comparative sophistication of the Manchester attack dictated that the authorities take extreme care and deploy every available resource to discover whether this week’s killer also acted alone.
Whilst we all mourn the cruel loss of life in Manchester, including such young lives, perhaps this is a moment to reflect on the legislation available to the police and security services. In speeches and seminars, I commended the fact that there were few calls for additional terror laws in light of the Westminster attack. I believe the same applies to Manchester.
In fact, many of the laws which most accurately deal with these attacks are not “terror laws” as such. I have pointed out that Masood, had he survived, would have been charged with five counts of murder and many more of attempted murder. The same applies, though in tragically higher numbers, to the individual who detonated the bomb in Manchester, together with anyone proved to have worked with him to that terrible end.
Does it follow that criminals such as these, when charged with murder, are not to be regarded as terrorists?
Not at all. The unlawful and intentional taking of another life is the most serious crime of them all. We do not need to create a special category of statutory terrorism offence in order to mark out this heinous crime.
Next, the appalling loss of life in Manchester was caused by a bomb. So how do prosecutors charge any person found to be involved with the bomber?
The answer lies within the Explosive Substances Act 1883, an Act of Parliament passed 130 years before so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (which has claimed responsibility for the Manchester attack) was formed. Are the offences of the late Victorian era still fit for purpose? They are in my book.
Does that mean that we fail to charge terrorists with terrorism offences? Not at all. I see no need to create more statutory offences if we already have what we need.
Parliament has added an abundance of modern provisions, all of which I review directly, under the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006, the Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures Act 2011 and the Terrorist Asset Freezing Act 2010. In my view, we do not lack for law in this country. Those who keep us safe, including the contingent of armed personnel we saw on our streets this week, need resources – rather than yet more law – to do the job.
The same applies to those who conduct urgent criminal investigations such as the one necessitated by the Manchester attack. These are policy and financial considerations, beyond my remit. Whilst all of that work is done, as it must be done, current legislation both old and new is ready to provide legal remedies in the name of all who spend this weekend in sorrow and in solidarity with the people of Manchester.

Alongside so many others, I have expressed my horror at events in central London last night. As with the Westminster Bridge and Manchester Arena attacks, I have restricted my immediate comment to brief postings on Twitter. This weekend, the Police have  responded magnificently to the murderous actions of  three criminals whom we all understand to have sprung from a van used as a weapon on London Bridge. From media reports, there is a growing sense of the extreme bravery and selflessness shown by professional officers, including unarmed first-responders. Along with every other law-abiding UK citizen, I pay tribute to the dedication and – this is not too strong a word – heroism demonstrated by men and women from our Police and emergency services, for whom no effort is too great in order to keep people safe.

The fact that these events have occurred during a General Election campaign makes it even more important that lawyers like me stay out of the way, allowing politicians and the services themselves to keep us informed and to comment where they feel appropriate. This brings me to the Prime Minister’s words from 10 Downing Street this morning, which included the following:

Fourth, we have a robust counter-terrorism strategy that has proved successful over many years.  But as the nature of the threat we face becomes more complex, more fragmented, more hidden, especially online, the strategy needs to keep up.  So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need. 

And if we need to increase the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently less serious offences, that is what we will do.

Naturally enough, I am receiving many requests for interviews and comment. Whilst it should be clearly understood that  ‘counter terrorism strategy’ encompasses far more than the terrorism legislation which I review, commentators may be right that the Prime Minister has some form of review of parts of that legislation in mind. However, I know no more than what we have all heard the Prime Minister announce this morning. I am not going to speculate, especially as we remain in the grip of an election campaign until Thursday. I therefore intend to maintain my previous stance, namely to allow the Police investigation to develop over the coming days. I hope that others will understand my position, but know that I am closely monitoring things said from any quarter which may impact upon my role as Independent Reviewer. Once the Election is concluded, I shall of course provide my comments as and when appropriate.

Meanwhile, like everyone else I applaud all who attend or perform at the Manchester tribute concert this evening, whilst mourning this new loss of life on the streets of London.

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’s 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’s 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: Read more…

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.