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.