U.K. Overhauls Terrorism Sentencing and Monitoring with New Bill

The British government has announced its biggest overhaul of terrorist monitoring and sentencing in decades with the new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill.

The bill entered parliament on May 20 and will end early release for terror offenders who receive Extended Determinate Sentences, where the maximum penalty was life, and force them to serve their whole term in jail. It will also see the most dangerous offenders – those found guilty of serious terror offenses such as the worst examples of preparing acts of terrorism – handed a minimum 14-year prison term and up to 25 years on licence.

The bill will also allow the courts to consider if any serious offense is terror-related, for example an offense involving firearms where there is a proven terrorist connection, and allow tougher sentences to be imposed. Other key changes include requiring adult offenders to take polygraph tests.

The bill follows emergency legislation passed in February which retrospectively ended automatic early release for terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences. This forced them to spend a minimum two-thirds of their term behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board.

U.K. Counter Terrorism Policing’s Senior National Coordinator, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon said the bill would ensure dangerous terrorists serve sentences proportionate to their crimes, as well as bolster the ability to monitor those in the community who might still pose a threat.

“Counter Terrorism Policing support changes in legislation which would increase our ability to protect the public, but this can only work effectively if used alongside a whole society approach aiming to reduce that threat in the long term.

“The new powers in this bill would only be used against a small number of the most dangerous terrorist offenders, and we need to focus just as much attention on the only strategy which attempts to divert people away from violent extremism altogether – Prevent.

“Whether Prevent is attempting to stop someone following a path towards terrorism, or hoping to rehabilitate and de-radicalize those who have already been convicted, it is our best hope in reducing the threat in the long term.”

The new bill allows for the independent review of Prevent to have the time it needs to consider all angles of the strategy. It removes the statutory deadline, while maintaining the legislative commitment to undertake it, to ensure that the new reviewer has sufficient time. The review is expected to be completed by August 2021.

The British government increased funding for counterterrorism police activities by £90 million for 2020/2021 to a total of £906 million. It has also doubled the number of counterterrorism specialist probation staff as well as making more places available in probation hostels so that authorities can keep closer tabs on terrorists in the weeks after they are released from prison.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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