Returning foreign fighters and extreme material online

My words have been misrepresented in some quarters recently.

The sources of the controversy are:

– My interview on the Today programme on Thursday 19th October. Full transcript here.

РMy Tom Sargant Memorial lecture for JUSTICE on Tuesday 24th October. Full transcript here.

At no time have I said that returning jihadis (to use the media term, but it might be more correct to say returning foreign fighters) should be welcomed rather than prosecuted. I have spoken and written about the various legal mechanisms available to our authorities in such cases, including Deprivation of citizenship for dual nationals, Temporary Exclusion Orders, the use of Schedule 7 port stop powers, the application of TPIMs in cases where there is intelligence but not evidence, and the use of prosecution in our criminal courts in every case where there is evidence of the commission of serious offences by British citizens whilst abroad.

In my Today interview, following the revelation by the Director-General of MI5 that many British citizens who travelled to Iraq or Syria are already back in the UK, I indicated that we should allow some space for individuals who do not fit into the categories requiring the legal sanctions I have listed, but who may be very young and naive; by which I mean for example the teenage girls who left a London Academy school in order to travel to Syria via Iraq. Even such teenagers would not escape prosecution if there is evidence that they have committed serious criminal offences, but if not, surely we should make an allowance for their return in circumstances where they were simply brainwashed, as immature  and vulnerable teenagers.

For the avoidance of doubt, it must be clear that in the case of those returning having fought for so-called Islamic State – which we may yet see, and which would be a different number than those identified by the DG of MI5 as having already returned – the expectation will be that prosecution and trial will be necessary in every case.

In my JUSTICE lecture, I did not seek to strike down the Home Secretary’s declared intention to legislate and to sentence for repeat viewing of extreme material online, by extension to sections 58 and 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000. However, as is clear from the full content of my lecture which I urge everyone to read, I indicated that great care must be taken with the definitions and the drafting of such legislation, including any extension of sentencing powers. It is my job to scrutinise and to comment upon any such proposals made by government.