Commons reading on Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill raises familiar concerns regarding monitoring and discrimination


This Tuesday saw the reading of the counter terroism and sentencing bill raise familiar concerns regarding monitoring and the potential for discrimination as the bill underwent its third reading in the house. The reading included contributions from Dianne Abbot, David Lammy, Chris Phillip and Joanna Cherry among others as MPs discussed potential amendments to the bill on it’s final reading in the Commons.

What is the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill?

The Counter Terroism and sentencing bill aims to further the government's powers in monitoring and prosecuting terrorists and those suspected of planning acts of terror. The government believes this will help to further strengthen the approach taken to the sentencing and release of terrorist offenders, and to enhance the management of terrorism risk through civil powers. The bill, which was tabled by the Home Secretary comes in the wake of the attacks at Fishmongers Hall in November 2019 and in Streatham in February 2020 which the government believe “demonstrate the risk to public safety that we are facing from known terrorist offenders who are released having spent insufficient time in custody.”

Among other things the Bill would introduce the “serious terrorism sentence” which would be a new sentence for terrorist offenders, made up of a minimum of 14 years in custody and a 7 to 25 year period of extended licence. In addition, it aims to remove the possibility of release at the two thirds point of the custodial part of an extended sentence for relevant terrorist offenders and provide that offenders serving a serious terrorism sentence cannot be released until the end of the custodial part of their sentence. It aims for an Increase from 10 to 14 years of the maximum sentence available for the offences of: membership of a proscribed organisation, inviting or expressing support for a proscribed organisation and attendance at a place used for terrorist training. It wishes to “allow for any non-terrorist offence with a maximum sentence of over 2 years to be found to have a terrorist connection.”

Moreover, the bill aims to expand the list of offences which can result in an extended sentence and increase the maximum period of the extended licence for certain terrorist offenders from 8 to 10 years (in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, it is already 10 in Scotland). The Bill would also provide for the polygraph testing of certain terrorist offenders when released on licence.


Much of the debate concerned attempts to revise the scheme for imposing Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM’s). TPIMs allow for authorities to place a range of restrictions on terror suspects including residency requirements. This now requires proof of involvement in terrorism-related activity as opposed to the previous standard of reasonable belief. The new Bill would see the required standard of proof lowered, the range of measures available expanded, and a removal of the current two year time limit.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC argued that the case had not been made to justify the changes the government are seeking to make. Cherry referred to the view of current independent reviewer of terrorism legislations Jonathan Hall, who gave evidence to the bill committee stating that the combination of clause 37 (lowering of standard of proof) & 38 (removal of the 2-year cap on TPIMs) would result in a double whammy leading to the prospect of “enduring TPIMs with no automatic end point.”

Additional safeguards as suggested by the independent reviewer in clause 46 proposed that if a TPIM should continue above 2 years then at that stage authorities should on the balance of probability be able to say whether the person in question is really a terrorist (this is one example of a safeguard.) Another suggested safeguard proposed that a judge would have to give permission so as to treat going beyond the 2 years without additional proof of new terrorist activity as requiring a higher threshold or some sort of necessity test.

Joanna Cherry maintained that the issue with the Bill’s attempts to lower the standard of proof was that 'no operational case had been made for it.' She added that the independent reviewer for terrorist legislation who was appointed by the government and charged with looking at these matters echoed these thoughts, casting doubt as to whether there existed an operational case for changing the TPIM regime at this point. She maintained that there was no clear evidence to suggest that the current standard of proof had been an impediment to security services in seeking and obtaining a TPIM where they had seen it as appropriate to do so.

Prevent Programme

The sessions also saw further calls to replace the counter-terroism 'Prevent programme'. The ‘Prevent’ strategy is one of the four elements of CONTEST, the government's counter-terrorism strategy which aims It aims to stop people becoming affiliated with terrorist groups.

The former shadow home secretary Dianne Abbott stated that the programme was ‘counter-productive in the fight against terroism.’ She remarked " Governments of all parties, including my own, have tended to want to argue that measures that undermine civil liberties are the answer to terrorism, but sometimes such measures run the risk of being a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. It is in that light that I address my remarks to the Prevent programme. The Government previously committed to a review of Prevent. I can only ask: where is the review? My hon. Friend Conor McGinn, speaking from the Front Bench, described Prevent as controversial. It is not just controversial; it is a toxic brand, and I would argue it is increasingly counterproductive in the fight against terrorism that we all want to support. We should look at a replacement for the Prevent programme."

She instead emphasised the need for a more effective anti radicalisation programme to be constituted, with greater focus on involving and working with communities and their concerns as opposed to running the risk of demonising and ostracizing them.

Apsana Begum, the MP for Poplar and Limehouse expressed similar sentiments regarding the need to better counter-terroism efforts, stating that ‘PREVENT’ had been largely “criticised for fostering discrimination against people of Muslim faith or background.”

Mayowa Ayodele


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