Government responses to my previous two reports

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 ‘what can only be described as a particularly difficult and challenging year’, 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’s recognition that my work represented a ‘diligent and authoritative approach’.

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 ‘general crime’ 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.

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