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.
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 Â responded magnificently to the murderous actions of Â 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.Â But as the nature of the threat we face becomes more complex, more fragmented, more hidden, especially online, the strategy needs to keep up.Â So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britainâ€™s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.Â
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 Â ‘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 Â 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 ofÂ my new role.
The Independent Reviewerâ€™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:Â complete independence from Government; unrestricted access to classified documents and national security personnel; and a statutory obligation on Government to lay the Independent Reviewerâ€™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:
- 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 Â 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.