Government’s terror laws adviser raises fears over reforms

Author : Mircea Birca | Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Posted in category Eurasia
Comments Off on Government’s terror laws adviser raises fears over reforms

Keeping prisoners behind bars for longer could “expose them to worse influences” than if they were released, the government’s terror laws adviser has said.

Jonathan Hall QC raised doubts about the “effectiveness” of legislation being rushed through parliament after the Streatham and London Bridge attacks.

He questioned whether keeping “non-risky prisoners” in jail for longer would really “protect the public” in an analysis of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill, which has completed its journey through the Commons and will be debated by the House of Lords next week.

The plans, which will affect around 50 people currently behind bars, aim to make sure terrorist offenders serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are considered eligible for release, rather than the current halfway mark, and require sign-off by the parole board.

Ministers are trying to speed its passage through parliament before the next jailed terrorist is due for release on Friday 28 February.

Mr Hall, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: “I raise questions about the effectiveness of some aspects of the bill as they affect existing prisoners.

“It is said that keeping terrorist prisoners longer in custody will protect the public since they will be off the streets.

“But the question is whether keeping a non-risky prisoner longer in custody, rather than releasing them, will protect the public.

“Recent reporting on conditions in prison suggest that keeping prisoners in custody any longer than necessary may be to expose them to worse influences than if released.

“Shorter periods of licence also mean less chance of intervention by the Probation Service.”

Mr Hall also raised concerns the changes could create a “cliff edge” where the parole board refuses to release an offender until the end of a sentence so terrorists are freed without any licence restrictions.

“The possibility of risky offenders being released without these controls gives rise to a cliff-edge in terms of managing their risk.”

He added: “Unless there is a clear justification for retroactively changing the earliest release date for this particular set of prisoners, it sets an uncomfortable precedent for retroactive alterations to the release dates for other offenders who are currently serving sentences of imprisonment.

“Whilst consideration by the Parole Board of all terrorist offenders prior to release is sensible and to be welcomed, it is unclear to me why this consideration needs to be delayed until two thirds of the sentences of prisoners – who would otherwise have been released after one half – have elapsed.”

The law change has also been opposed by Dave Merritt, whose son Jack was stabbed to death on London Bridge in November last year.

He told Sky News it was a “knee-jerk reaction” and “ill-considered intervention” and accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson for backing the legislation to “score some points” in the run-up to December’s general election.

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