The United Kingdom's Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson, has released his annual report on the operation of the U.K.'s Terrorism Acts of 2000 and 2006.
As usual, the report contains a summary of the current terrorist threat (ch 2) and of the way in which the various special terrorism powers (stop and search, port powers, arrest, detention and prosecution) were used during 2014 and in some cases more recently (chh 3-8). A number of Islamist plots were thwarted in Great Britain and terrorist violence remains an unfortunate fact of life in parts of Northern Ireland, where some plots were carried out but police activity has saved lives. Arrests and charges are running at a very high level. Port powers, recently considered by the Supreme Court in the case of Beghal, were used less extensively but more effectively during the period under review. There were multiple convictions of both Islamist and extreme right-wing terrorists in England.
There is also a chapter (ch 9) on countering extremism. Extremism has been defined by the Government as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”: it thus extends to a range of activity that is not caught by the current law as terrorism, incitement to violence, stirring up hatred or abuse. It is right and proper that the Government should have a counter-extremism strategy, details of which will be announced later in the year. But plans to extend the legal impediments to free speech, by way of the proposed Counter-Extremism Bill, are likely to be controversial. Based on my experience as the reviewer of terrorism legislation, I identify some of the issues that Parliament will need to look out for when the Counter-Extremism Bill – which will be aimed at suppressing “extremist activity”, including by “extremist disruption orders” – comes before Parliament in this session. As I say at 9.30:
“These issues matter because they concern the scope of UK discrimination, hate speech and public order laws, the limit that the state may place on some of our most basic freedoms, the proper limits of surveillance, and the acceptability of imposing suppressive measures without the protections of the criminal law. If the wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”
The final chapter (ch 10) is about the future of independent review.
I make (or repeat) a number of recommendations, including (against the background of NHS commissioning) a recommendation that steps are taken to retain the current high quality of provision for forensic medical examiners in Terrorism Act detention: see 7.28-7.34.
Editors note: The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation is appointed by statute to review the operation of the U.K.’s anti-terrorism laws and report on them to the Home Secretary and to Parliament. He is given access to secret papers and discussions, and charged with informing the public and political debate on the law as it relates to terrorism. Anderson has published an article on the history, function, and influence of the Independent Reviewer; it's available here.