I was pleased to receive the Government responses to my reports today. The first Response (cm 9704) dealt with my Annual Report on the Operation of the Terrorism Acts in 2016, which was published on 25th January this year, and the second Response (cm 9705) dealt with my Report on the use of terrorism legislation following the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack, which was published on 28th March.

I did not have prior sight of either Response, but offer the following first reaction to both:

The Government Response to the Annual Report on the operation of the Terrorism Acts in 2016

I thank the Home Secretary for his kind words in relation to my work as IRTL during ‚Äėwhat can only be described as a particularly difficult and challenging year‚Äô, namely 2017.

Threat picture. Both my predecessor Lord Anderson and I, in reports we produced independently of each other, recommended that JTAC extend its remit to include assessing the threat from domestic extremism. I am pleased that the Government has accepted this recommendation, in particular because the threat we face from extreme right wing terrorism within the UK is considerable, and in my clear view it has grown in reaction to the terrorist atrocities on Westminster Bridge, London Bridge and at Manchester Arena last year. Terrorism takes many forms. Extreme right wing ideology breeds terrorism, and must be dealt with comprehensively.

Port and Border Controls

I am pleased that prospective revision of the existing Code of Practice may introduce greater certainty and accountability in the exercise of Schedule 7 powers, but disappointed that no threshold test is to be introduced. Had this recommendation been accepted, it would have created greater community confidence in the use of these exceptional powers. I hope and expect that my successor will maintain rigorous scrutiny and pressure in this area.

Arrest and Detention

I am pleased that the Government has responded positively and constructively to all of my recommendations in this regard.

Criminal Proceedings

I understand the Government’s reasoning in rejecting my proposal that certain existing terrorism offences have decreasing relevance since their passage into law one or two decades ago. However, this is part of a wider conversation about the absence of a need to resort to knee-jerk legislation in response to any outbreak of terrorist activity, for which please see my evidence to Parliament concerning the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018. There remains an urgent need for my successor to continue this work in my absence.

The Government Response to the report on the use of terrorism legislation following the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack

My report was an attempt to introduce more information into the public domain than before, concerning a major terrorism investigation. I am grateful for the Home Secretary‚Äôs recognition that my work represented a ‚Äėdiligent and authoritative approach‚Äô.

Transporting TACT detainees

I am pleased to see the Government’s support for the principle that careful consideration should always be given to whether it is necessary to transport detainees large distances. My own engagement with CT policing before and after the publication of my Report suggests that my recommendation has been taken seriously.

Informing detainees of their rights at the earliest opportunity

I accept that it can be difficult to predict the necessary level of police resources during a dynamic investigation. However, TACT detainees exceptionally may be detained for up to 14 days without charge, far longer than ‚Äėgeneral crime‚Äô detainees arrested under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Therefore thought and preparation must be applied to the special consequences of TACT detention, where recent history has shown that most of those detained are not in fact charged with any offence after further investigation. I welcome the revelation that the new TACT detention suite at Hammersmith has been purposely co-located with a non-TACT detention suite. This should allow interoperability between TACT and non-TACT custody staff, which I recall was a feature of the now closed detention suite at Paddington Green.

Religious questions during interviews

I accept that detailed religious questions can be necessary during some police interviews of terrorism suspects, but maintain that greater religious literacy by interview officers is necessary, as demonstrated by some of the simplistic questions posed during interviews with some of the Westminster Bridge suspects, where any answer to such questions was of little or no utility to the police investigation.

Separately to the Government Response, I am happy to report that my own engagement since the publication of my Report with those in CT policing responsible for training interview officers has been positive and constructive, and I am confident that religious literacy will improve if this engagement is followed through. I invite my successor to keep this topic under scrutiny.

Reconsideration of bail before charge for TACT detainees

I am not the first to make this recommendation, nor should I be the last. Whether taken during a terrorist investigation or one relating to general crime, any decision to release a suspect on bail can only be taken with great care. However, the exceptional statutory regime permitting pre-charge detention of up to 14 days in TACT cases, together with the 58% rise in arrests from 2016-2017, means that a wider and more diverse range of individuals are being taken into TACT custody. In maintaining the Government’s rejection of this recommendation, the Home Secretary’s commitment to reconsider in future is important and will I hope be followed up by my successor.

I shall now incorporate the Government Responses into my Annual Report for 2017, which was delivered to the Home Office in July and which I hope will be published before I must leave my post as IRTL next month. I shall repeat and may expand upon this first reaction in the final version of the 2017 Report.

I have been waiting for the Government to respond to my formal written reports; it has been eight months since publication of my Annual Report for 2016, and over five months since publication of my Report into the Westminster Bridge attack investigation. I was informed yesterday afternoon that the Government intends to publish both responses tomorrow, Thursday 13th September, and I welcome this.

I have also been told today that I may not see either report, or be told anything about the content, until publication. It is of course a feature of the role of Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that s/he holds the highest security classification and is afforded unfettered access to the most sensitive information and intelligence. This is why whenever the Government intends to publish draft legislation – including the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill in June, and the amendments tabled last week – they call me in for confidential meetings to discuss the content. I have never breached confidentiality, and everyone knows that my own reports are provided to the Home Office months in advance of publication so that they may be scrutinised for factual accuracy and to ensure that sensitive information is not released. This makes their decision not to share the responses with me odd, but I shall have to read and react to the Government responses to my own reports after they are released to the public.

All of this leads me to reinforce my call for the Government to get on with the urgent task of appointing the next Independent Reviewer. After all that we have been through during 2017, there has never been a more important time for robust and entirely independent scrutiny of our legislation, and for a national conversation about where we go next in maintaining the twin imperatives of national security and fundamental rights. Whatever you may think of my work since March 2017, I have been proud to follow in the footsteps of my predecessors who have served in an unbroken line over four decades. It is vital that a new and independent lawyer is found to carry on my work. I am willing to play any part in encouraging the right candidates to come forward, and I am in no doubt that there are independent self-employed barristers who are eminently suited to this work. The sooner this process is started, the better. The passage of the Counter Terrorism and Border security Bill 2018 through Parliament requires the assistance of an experienced lawyer who is entirely free from the machinery of Government.

Following the announcement in July that I am to become the DPP later this year, I was in early discussion with the Home Office about the need to appoint the next IRTL. With the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018 making its way through Parliament, I am concerned lest there is a gap between Reviewers, particularly at this time. My concerns about many of the provisions in the new Bill have been clearly documented. Last week, the Government tabled some amendments to the Bill. I welcome some of the changes, but have serious and principled concerns about others. I shall write on this subject as soon as possible. Meanwhile, I attach my formal resignation letter to the Home Secretary here, but am sorry to note that there remains little sign of any competition to appoint the next IRTL. This is becoming urgent.

My first Annual Report on the operation of the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006 has been presented to Parliament today. It can be accessed here.

This Report deals with the operation of the legislation during the year 2016. It is a feature of the timing of my appointment that my first Report deals with the period before I became Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation on 1st March 2017. There was much to consider and review, though I recognise that many readers and commentators will be awaiting my review of the use of our legislation during 2017, in the aftermath of the atrocities commencing with the Westminster Bridge attack on 22nd March last year. With that in mind, I can confirm that I am in the final stages of completing a separate Report into Operation Classific, which was the Police investigation into the Westminster Bridge attack. I hope to present that Report to the Home Office next month.

Meanwhile, the first Annual Report follows a format made familiar by my predecessor, and it addresses the following:
Threat picture
Proscribed organisations and executive orders
Stop and search
Port and border controls
Arrest and detention
Criminal proceedings

As a further echo of my predecessor’s reports, I have asked my Senior Special Advisor, Professor Emeritus Clive Walker QC (Hon) to provide a Guest Chapter, this year entitled:
Executive legal measures and terrorism: proscription and financial sanctions

In this way, I hope that my Report and the Annexes (which include the Guest Chapter) provide useful information on the operation of all four of the statutes which I review, namely the two Terrorism Acts together with the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (which I address in the ‚Äėexecutive orders‚Äô chapter) and the Terrorist Asset Freezing Act 2010 (which is addressed by Professor Walker).

The Annual Report also includes an Executive Summary at the outset and Conclusions and Recommendations at the end.

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.

 

There were eight new Treasury designations in the year to September 2014 under the Terrorist Asset-Freezing &c Act 2010 Рmore than the total for the previous three years.  There has been an attempt to use asset-freezing legislation to respond to the threat posed by UK residents  who travel to and from Syria and Iraq for the purposes of terrorism.   But bearing in mind that over 600 Britons have travelled out there, the small number of designations indicates that asset-freezing has played only a marginal role in combating the most serious terrorist threat of the present time.

12 long-term prisoners were delisted over the same period, demonstrating that the annual review system works well.

For designated persons at liberty in the United Kingdom (of whom there were three in September 2014), the effect of an asset freeze can be “oppressive and disheartening”.¬† Managing the licensing &c¬†is also labour-intensive on both sides.¬† Further improvements to the operation of the system, some of them prompted by previous recommendations, are¬†under way.¬† ¬†But it remains important that consideration continues to be given by all concerned to the greater use of TAFA 2010 as a way of disrupting persons who cannot be prosecuted but in respect of whom financial restrictions are needed in order to protect the public from terrorism.¬† A collaborative effort is called for between, in particular, police and intelligence agencies, the CPS, Treasury and OSCT.¬† More could also be done to ensure the highest possible quality of consideration at the meetings that consider new designations, so increasing the probability that decisions will be fully defensible in legal proceedings.

Two problems of a more general nature are:

  • so-called “de-banking” or “de-risking”,¬† when banking facilities are withdrawn from persons or organisations falling outside a bank’s risk appetite.¬† The consequences are negative not only for those who lose banking facilities, but for the authorities who lose any possibility of monitoring their financial transactions.
  • the impact of terrorist financing laws on organisations which seek to distribute aid in regions of the world under the effective control of terrorist organisations.

I set out some pointers towards a possible solution in my report (echoing, in part, the recommendations of Parliament’s Draft Protection of Charities Bill Committee which reported recently under the chairmanship of Lord Hope of Craighead), and urge the Government, financial institutions and NGOs to work towards a resolution of these difficult issues.

Government Response to July 2014 Terrorism Acts report (Cm 9032)

This is a thoughtful response with new information relating to the threat and the funding of counter-terrorism.

It is noted that one of my recommendations on the definition of terrorism (a reduction in the definition of “terrorism-related activity”) has been given effect in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.¬† The other recommended changes are not ruled out, but judged “premature” since the UK definition of terrorism is “the material focus of ongoing litigation” in Beghal (currently before the Supreme Court) and Miranda (currently before the Court of Appeal).

Decisions on my recommendations regarding clarification of and change to Schedule 8 (detention) are also deferred pending the outcome of litigation, this time the long-running Sher and Duffy cases in Strasbourg.  Sympathy is however expressed for the recommendation Рwhich I consider unanswerable Рthat the detention clock under s41 should be stopped as it is under PACE on admission of a suspect to hospital.

Developments are noted on a number of other fronts including Schedule 7 (where my recommendations are recalled in the context of technical changes to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015), the EU opt-out and the establishment of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, the details of which are still under consideration by Ministers.

The Home Secretary concludes her response with the words: “I look forward to receiving your future reports.”¬† We shall see!

Of the three annual reports that I am required to produce, the fullest and most wide-ranging is my summer report into the operation of the Terrorism Acts.

The 130-page 2013 report was laid before Parliament this morning, and¬†should be accessible from the “Reports” section of this site.

Featured in the report, which covers the year 2012, are:

  • my fullest assessment yet of the terrorist threat to the UK, both from al-Qaida related terrorism, Northern Ireland related terrorism and extreme right wing terrorism,
  • a sketch of the counter-terrorism machine,
  • a look back to the Olympic and Paralympic Games,¬†successfully protected as a result of¬†meticulous preparation, without new laws being passed or special powers being invoked,
  • a review of the¬†application of the terrorism offences, which were used to charge 43 persons in Great Britain during the year and which resulted in sentences of up to 21 years, mostly after guilty pleas,
  • an account of¬†the early uses of my¬†new power to review the conditions of detention of terrorist suspects,
  • reflections on the definition of terrorism, often criticised as over-broad,
  • a¬†review of progress on¬†the overhaul of rules and procedures for banning terrorist groups, and
  • material to inform the current parliamentary debate on the exercise of port powers.

A full synopsis of my findings and conclusions is in the Executive Summary at the start of the report.

The United Kingdom has a full armoury of anti-terrorism laws.  The majority of those laws unfortunately remain justified by the nature of the threat.  But I commend the Government for the cautious and selective liberalisation of the past three years, which has removed or diluted some of the more intrusive powers without materially increasing the risks to public safety. 

Some further changes could safely be made.  In particular:

  • The processes for proscribing and deproscribing terrorist groups, which have resulted in the continued banning of some groups that no longer meet the statutory test, should be improved.
  • More safeguards should be provided on the use of anti-terrorism powers¬†at ports and airports¬†– notably¬†the downloading of phones and laptops, and the retention of information taken from them.

I look forward to keeping the operation of all these powers under review for the remainder of my mandate as Independent Reviewer.  Please contact me if you have relevant evidence or observations.