Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

My Lords, to effectively tackle terrorism we must use a combination of radicalisation prevention, rehabilitation and punishment. This Bill is not balanced: it places too much reliance on punishment. We must effectively address the root causes and implement real solutions to deal with the problems of radicalisation, extremism and terrorism.

To stop radicalisation and terrorism we must not merely apply stronger punishments. I am actively involved in the issues of radicalisation and terrorism, having prepared two reports on the subject and spoken about it in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere. I have also been very effective in dealing with the issues in the community. To deal with these problems we need input and participation in the form of new partnerships involving the Government, the police, local authorities, prisons and members of the community at all levels. We need a holistic approach—that is what may work. Unfortunately, a tiny minority of Muslims have been radicalised and committed terrorist acts. These Muslims go against the peaceful principles of Islam.

I recently asked a Question in the House about the lack of diversity in the justice system, and I have written to my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Greenhalgh asking for their support for an in-depth study of Muslims in prison. I have not yet received a reply, so I ask my noble friend Lady Williams to comment on my request, and on the points I made about radicalisation, in her response.

I refer now to the important matter of the Prevent strategy. I repeat what I said in this House in November 2018:

“The Prevent strategy has caused concerns and raised objections. Some critics of the strategy have said that there is racial profiling, excessive spying and the removal of basic civil liberties from innocent individuals.”—[Official Report, 12/11/18; col. 1737.]

It is imperative that a suitable person is appointed to review the strategy and, importantly, that that person’s ?terms of reference must be reconsidered and be appropriate. The terms should, for example, include full consultations with communities.

Furthermore, it is important that a new date for the review, which must be adhered to, is fixed; otherwise, the matter may be kicked into the long grass. I ask the Minister to comment on this point and what I have said about the Prevent strategy.

I will now refer briefly to some of the Bill’s provisions. Due to constraints of time, I do not have a great deal to say. I am concerned about the Bill’s blanket approach to stopping release at the two-thirds point of the custodial sentence for certain offences and removing any early releases for the offences. Preventing the possibility of early release in this way will have unintended consequences, especially for those who were radicalised when vulnerable and have genuinely reformed in prison. Assuming that this is never the case is unfair and may undermine the chance for effective reform. Instead, I suggest we continue to implement the TORER Act 2020, as this considers individual circumstances. We cannot generalise when it comes to rights.

I am also concerned about how the Bill approaches the increasing severity of non-terrorist sentences considered to have a terrorist connection. In a climate of intolerance, it is possible that members of BAME communities would receive harsher sentences. Unfortunately, this is already happening, and I have said so previously in your Lordships’ House.

I want to express my worry about expanding the list of offences that can result in a sentence for offenders of particular concern. It begs the question of how an offender of particular concern will be determined. The sentence may be open to misinterpretation and bias, particularly if sentencing occurs in the wake of an unpleasant incident.

Finally, I express my disquiet about lowering the standard of proof for TPIMs and removing the two-year limits, which can cause problems. This, again, is open to greater interpretation, and the power to indefinitely impose conditions could undermine civil liberties by increasing surveillance. In conclusion, this is an important Bill, and we need to look carefully at its provisions.

 

The following was noted by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: 

It was made by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who went on to make the important point that there needs to be full resourcing of deradicalisation programmes, as they are very resource heavy.

 

Baroness Williams of Trafford responded with: 

I also say to my noble friend Lord Sheikh that I will respond to his letter as soon as I possibly can; I apologise to him.

 

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Updated: 29/09/2020 — 3:40 PM