Terror watchdog hears complaints about repressive laws

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
9pm Tuesday 4 July 2006

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, this morning held a public consultation in Glasgow as part of his review into the definition of terrorism on behalf of the Government.

Eric Metcalfe of the the human rights organisation Justice spoke at the meeting about the written submission provided by Justice for Lord Carlile's review. Two other speakers, Dr. Daud Abdullah, Assistant Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain and Mona Siddiqui of the Centre for the study of Islam at Glasgow University, had been expected to join Eric Metcalfe in making opening addresses to the meeting, but didn't appear.

Over thirty other people attended the meeting, and were unananimous in expressing grave concerns over the current terrorism legislation and over the breadth and vagueness of the the statutory definition of terrorism. They contrasted the nightmare of last year's London bombings with the wide range of activities far short of that kind of violence that fall within the scope of the definition.

A senior officer from Strathclyde police stressed that the law should be clear and should criminalise actions, not communities. The same police officer was on the receiving end of robust criticism for the extensive use that Stratclyde police made of "stop and search" powers available under the ordinary criminal law during the G8 Summit last year. The police were also criticised by John McManus of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation (Scotland) for the corruption and malpractice that he said some officers had displayed in a number of serious investigations.

Speakers from the floor highlighted the importance of people of all communities interacting with one another. Recent years have seen fresh political initiatives that have cut across divisions of faith and ethncity. Many of these initiatives are connected to opposition to the war in Iraq. But these are exactly the areas of political life that the terrorism laws threaten to criminalise. In doing so they undermine democracy, undermine the engagement of people of all communities with one another, and promote a climate that could encourage terrorism.

The overwhelming majority of the speakers from the floor were of the view that attempting to define "terrorism" in law was unnecesary and unhelpful. Many people said that they felt threatened by the law. Those who saw some merit in incorporating a definition into domestic or international law made it clear that they saw this as a path towards a single standard that would prohibit acts of terrorising violence by governments as well as by "sub-state" groups.

The Terrorism Act 2000 seeks to limit the prosecutions resulting from its wide definition of terrorism by requiring that prosecution for most terrorism offences must be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions or (if they are connected with activities overseas) by the Attorney General. A number of speakers highlighted this as evidence of the arbitrary nature of the current legislation.

Scotland Against Criminalising Communties (SACC) welcomes the government's willingness to look again at the definition of terrorism, and welcomes efforts that seek a wide input to the discussion. But we have serious concerns over the independence of the present review. We feel that the government was mistaken in asking Lord Carlile, who already acts as independent reviewer of the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000, to also review this key principle of the legislation.

Part of the problem is that Lord Carlile is granted access to secret intelligence briefings to enable him to review the day to day working of the Act. We think that this makes him too close to the intelligence and security communities to undertake a fundamental review of the legislation.

We are struck, for example, by the fact that in his recently-published report on the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000 Lord Carlile comments on the security situation in Northern Ireland but does not mention the revelation last December that a British spy called Denis Donaldson seems to have been the central figure in the "Stormontgate" affair that brought down Northern Ireland's devolved administration in 2002.

In each of his annual reviews of the Terrorism Act 2000, Lord Carlile declares the Act "fit for purpose". In his most recent review, he also says that "the definition of terrorism has proved practical and effective." Yet in the next sentence he says "I remain entirely openminded about change to the definition." These statements seem to us to irreconcilable.

In spite of these limitations. Lord Carlile's review - a "work in progress" - is beginning to expose some of the fundamental problems that lie behind the government's anti-terrorism policy. We hope that the government will take the hint and conduct a root-and-branch re-examinition of this policy. And we hope they will also call a halt to the policies of overseas agression that are so intimately linked to repression at home. It's time to bring the troops home from Iraq, and it's time to give us back our freedom.

Notes

As well as the meeting described here, Lord Carlile held a similar meeting in Belfast on Monday. Further meetings are scheduled for London, Cardiff and Nottingham as follows:Wednesday 5th July 10.30 - 13.00 The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Savoy Place, London, WC2R 0BLSpeakers: Khalid Sofi, Chair, Legal Affairs Committee,Muslim Council of Britain; Professor Conor Gearty, London School of Economics; Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty; Professor Phillipe Sands, University College LondonWednesday 5th July 14.00 - 16.30 The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Savoy Place, London, WC2R 0BLSpeakers: Professor Clive Walker, Leeds University; Eric Metcalfe, Justice; Ben EmmersonQC, Matrix Law ChambersThursday 6th July 10.30 - 13.00 Millennium Stadium, Westgate Street, Cardiff, CF10 1JASpeakers: Barbara Wilding, Chief Constable South Wales Police; Luke Clements, Cardiff University; Urfan Khaliq, Cardiff University; Abdulrahman Jafar, Vice-Chair, Legal Affairs Committee, Muslim Council of BritainFriday 7th July 14.00 - 16.30 Albert Hall Conference Centre, North Circus Street, Off Derby Road, Nottingham, NG1 5AASpeakers: Professor Robert McColquon, Head Law Faculty, Nottingham University; Professor Helen Fenwick, Doughty Street Chambers; Gavin Phillipson, Kings College London; Peter Carter QC, Human Rights Committee

More about Lord Carlile's review