U.K. Independent Reviewer on British Terrorism Legislation

By Cody M. Poplin
Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 3:18 PM

David Anderson, the U.K.'s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has released his annual report on British terrorism laws. The report covers several broad topics: ethnic or community bias in the use of police powers; the worldwide reach of U.K. counter-terrorism law; the difficulties posed by counter-terrorism law to the operation of aid agencies in conflict zones; and the definition of terrorism. The last point, the definition of terrorism, is perhaps the key takeaway this year. From Anderson:

The UK quite rightly has very tough laws against terrorism. When terrorism is suspected, people can be arrested more easily, detained for longer, prosecuted for behaviour falling well short of attempt, conspiracy or incitement and made subject to restrictions by ministerial order on their finances and their movements.

The public accepts special terrorism laws so long as they are used only when necessary. But they can currently to be applied to journalists and bloggers, to criminals who have no concern other than their immediate victim, and to those who are connected with terrorism only at several removes.

This is not a criticism of Ministers, prosecutors or police---who as a rule exercise their remarkably broad discretion with care and restraint. But it is time Parliament reviewed the definition of terrorism, to avoid the potential for abuse and to cement public support for special powers that are unfortunately likely to be needed for the foreseeable future.

You can read the full report here.

Anderson will also be conducting a formal review of the U.K.'s Communications Data and Interception Powers, which will be complete before the May 2015 General Election. More information, and a call for evidence, here.

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.

Anderson also provides a thoughtful review of the role of the Independent Reviewer in comparison to a recently proposed U.K. independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, whose role and name would appear to mirror that of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board in the United States.

For more thoughts and information on the role of the Independent Reviewer, see Ben's previous Lawfare posts here and here.