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.
Â 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 weekâs 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 âterror lawsâ 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 â rather than yet more law â 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.