The government recently introduced a package of measures aimed at keeping the public safe from terrorists by imposing longer prison terms. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act came into force in April and introduced a new “serious terrorism sentence” and provides a minimum term of 14 years and monitoring for up to 25 years after release. The Act also increased the maximum penalty for some offences from 10 to 14 years and gives judges the power to increase a sentence by up to two years if there is a “terrorist connection”.
The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has said that lengthier sentences are unlikely to deter extremists from a plot to kill multiple victims. The Sentencing Council consultation on how to implement the new sentencing regime led to this comment. Jonathan Hall QC went on to say that he objected to proposed guidelines saying that the courts should not undermine the intention of parliament and the deterrent purpose of the provisions.
He stated, “There is no evidence that the serious terrorism offence sentence provisions have a deterrent purpose and given the cohort of offenders in question – terrorist offenders who have risked multiple deaths – it is highly unlikely that they will be deterred by the prospect of a statutory minimum term of 14 years.
It is much more likely that the provisions have an incapacitative purpose, by ensuring that offenders are held in prison for longer.”
The Sentencing Council proposes that the minimum term can only not be imposed in truly exceptional circumstances.
A previous impact assessment published by the government said that longer sentences gave terrorists more time to engage in deradicalisation programmes. However, there was also a risk of such offenders radicalising other prisoners during their sentence. David Lammy MP also questioned the law, commenting, “there’s little use in increasing sentences for terrorists if we are to release them just a few years later, still committed to their hateful ideology, still determined to wreak havoc”.
A report from Judge Mark Lucraft QC following the Fishmongers Hall terrorist attack was published in late October. In this attack, a terrorist offender had been released and murdered two people at a rehabilitation event. The report makes 22 recommendations to various authorities, including Probation, the Ministry of Justice and the police.
The inquest into the attack found serious deficiencies in how the offender was managed following his release from custody, such as the training given to the staff who managed him and the “missed opportunities” to share information and guidance by the security services. The verdicts from the inquest led to the report now published, referred to as a “prevention of future deaths” report.
The offender at Fishmongers Hall posed as a reformed extremist and was allowed to join the event. The fact this was allowed gave rise to concerns that probation officers gave insufficient regard to instances of dishonesty in “self-presentation by extremist offenders”. Excessive weight may have been given to the perceived compliance by such offenders, such as being polite and meeting licence conditions.
The report makes a series of recommendations relating to courses such as the Learning Together programme in this case. Formal risk assessments must be undertaken, and any threat considered and mitigated. Proper communication must take place between all agencies in order to address those potential risks.
The recommendations were:
- Significant academic events and courses outside of university premises should be subject to a proper risk assessment, especially if they take place in risky environments such as prisons.
- Host venues should be informed of high-risk features of events.
- Consideration to be given to the risks of serious offenders being placed in close contact with young students.
- Consider whether further procedures could be put in place to encourage information to be shared with higher education providers working in prisons.
- Consider whether further measures of risk assessment and management can be introduced for any higher education programmes running in prisons that involve continued contact with offenders after their release.
- Assessment reports may currently be prepared without the direct involvement of a forensic psychologist. Consideration to be given to (a) requiring that every such report be completed by a forensic psychologist or (b) requiring that every such report on an offender in the community is either prepared by, or reviewed by, a forensic psychologist.
- Consideration should be given to introducing guidance to require or encourage the attendance of a forensic psychologist at appropriate MAPPA panel meetings.
- An offender’s risk rating should be given specific consideration and not changed informally.
- Ensuring offender managers always (a) record a rationale for giving any permission for approval, variation or relaxation in relation to licence conditions and (b) in the case of offenders subject to Level 2 or 3 MAPPA management, record whether or not the decision has been taken with express approval from the MAPPA panel.
- MAPPA minutes to record any discussion or decision on any approvals, relaxations or variations in licence conditions.
- Guidance is to be given to ensure the risks as well as potential benefits of any change in licence conditions to be examined.
- Consideration should be given to having dishonesty in self-presentation to be emphasised in the training of offender managers.
- Warnings to be given about placing too much reliance on “compliance” by extremist offenders.
- Communications to be encouraged between probation officers and the police responsible for managing the offender and any event organisers/venue hosts.
- Consideration is to be given to further steps that could be taken to facilitate random drug testing of offenders on licence.
- Measures to be taken to prevent a recurrence of the circumstances where a person at risk of re-engaging in extremism is subject to sudden disruption of mentoring arrangements.
- Ensure all MAPPA attendees receive a copy of the minutes, acknowledge them and state whether they wish to make amendments.
- MAPPA panels responsible for extremist offenders must be aware of important information from the offender’s time in prison.
- Consider how intelligence known only to the security services may be taken into account for the purposes of MAPPA management.
- Consider whether a MAPPA Panel Chair should be a member of the Core Group and for that Group to consider what intelligence can be supplied to the broader panel.
- Guidance to be considered for police officers responsible for covert offender management to report to MAPPA panels on their meetings with offenders and to take account of recommendations by MAPPA panels.
- Consideration of a licence condition requiring those subject to the condition to submit to a search by a police officer without them establishing specific legal grounds for the search.
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[Image credit: “Hand Gun” by Lala Photography at JoLi Studios Colchester is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0]