Parliament on a collision course with justice

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)
Wednesday 15 February 2006 for immediate release

MPs voted this afternoon by 315 to 277 to overturn a Lords defeat that would have removed from the Terrorism Bill the clauses outlawing "glorification of terrorism". In doing so, they put Parliament on a collision course with justice.

Baroness Scotland had earlier told the Lords that it was not "acceptable that people should be allowed to make statements which glorify terrorism." This sounds like common sense. The trouble is that 20 pages after the "glorification" clause, the Bill explains what its words actually mean. It says that "terrorism" means "new terrorism" - the wide new definition created by the Terrorism Act 2000 - and "the public" means any public in the world.

So - to take just one example - if you would like to see the people of Burma free themselves from military government, you will have to consider whether the process might involve a risk to public health and safety. If it does, then you will have to keep your opinions to yourself if you want to be sure of staying out jail.

The Home Secretary does not deny that this is the effect of the new offence but defends it on the basis that there is nowhere in the world today where violence can be justified as a means of bringing about political change. Most people would think this absurd even if the word "violence" had its common-sense meaning. But under the Terrorism Act 2000, it includes damage to property and risks to public health and safety.

We join with Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights in insisting that new offences of the sort created under the Terrorism Bill need to be decoupled from the broad definition of "terrorism" in the Terrorism Act 2000.

If the Terrorism Bill becomes law in its present form, the government will have two choices. It will either have face up to holding show trials of a number of highly-respected dissidents, or it will have to abandon the rule of law by taking care that prosecutions are only brought against people who are politically weak and isolated.

Notes for editors

The Joint Committee on Human Rights noted its objections to the broad definition or terrorism in its report on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights: Terrorism Bill and related matters" published on 5 December 2005.