Maximum sentences for certain terror offences should be longer, according to the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
Max Hill QC, who took up the role three weeks before the Westminster Bridge attack, suggested the crime of failing to alert authorities to possible attacks ought to be punishable, in serious cases, by jail terms of more than five years.
There is no need for fresh anti-terror laws in the aftermath of jihadist attacks in Manchester and London this year, he said, but aspects of existing laws could be amended and improved.
“With the benefit of experience and hindsight it may be the case that some offences have insufficient discretionary maximum sentences, which should be reviewed,” Hill said.
Section 38B of the Terrorism Act 2000, under which an individual commits an offence if they do not inform police when they believe someone is preparing acts of terrorism, is one that may need attention, he noted.
Several defendants who assisted the plotters behind the failed 21 July bombings in 2005 were convicted under this section. The offence currently carries a maximum sentence of five years. “It seems to me that that should be reviewed for a decision on whether that is actually sufficient,” Hill said.
During the election campaign in June, Theresa May pledged to introduce “longer prison sentences for people convicted of terrorist offences” as well as doing more to “restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects”.
In his interview with the Press Association, Hill also proposed reviewing general crime offences which were perfectly appropriate for use in terrorism cases.
He said: “We have robust and appropriate laws dealing with firearms, knives, assaults and violence against the person. There is already a mechanism for judges to regard a terrorist mindset as an aggravating factor in non-terrorist offences but that is something that needs to be provided by way of a list or a schedule to indicate to judges which offences may be aggravated by a terrorist mindset.”
Hill repeated his call for greater reliance on terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which place restrictions on suspects who cannot be deported or prosecuted. Six Tpims were in place at the end of May.
The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said there had been a sparing but appropriate use of the measures and an increase was conceivable. He gave the potential example of someone returning to the country who cannot be placed on trial but may be an appropriate candidate for a Tpim.
“I don’t see the prospect of very large numbers of returning UK citizens but we are told that there may be some,” he said. “And that’s where, alongside the power to prosecute, the power to place individuals on Tpims should be considered.”
UK citizens who return from Syria after committing criminal acts should generally face prosecution, Hill said. “In cases which may come to light of individuals who travel to Syria out of naivety or brainwashing and are desperate to return to their friends and families in this country in a state of great disillusionment after their time in Syria, it doesn’t follow that in every case those individuals must be prosecuted or that there must be any mandatory process against them.”
Counter-terror agencies are understood to be running 500 live investigations involving about 3,000 individuals at any time, while there are also 20,000 former “subjects of interest” who have to be kept under review.
Hill said it would be quite wrong to argue that thousands of people should be either arrested, deported or otherwise have their lives interfered with because their name appeared in an individual piece of intelligence.
This article was written by Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent, for theguardian.com on Saturday 2nd September 2017 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010