Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

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Committee stage & Report stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Report stage (Hansard) & Report stage (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 24th February 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 View all Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 99-I Marshalled list for Committee - (21 Feb 2020)
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. I have listened to this debate and heard no compelling reason why this amendment has not been adopted by the Government. In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, the difference between one aspect of the retrospection and the other is that one does not compromise public safety, pure and simple.

By accepting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, nobody is let out, even with the administrative challenges of getting up a Parole Board under the appalling and savage cuts and debilitation to the system that I spoke about earlier, without Parole Board approval. That is the distinction between his amendment and the status quo ante, which is that people come out automatically, regardless of their risk, at the halfway point.

In answer to others, I have so much respect for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, but his point was about people who are not even on the radar. That problem is ongoing and not dealt with by this Bill. Saying that people should be held for as long as possible is not an answer to the amendment in question now. By definition, those who are affected by this Bill are subject to finite sentences that are not always very long, because these are not by definition the most serious terrorist offenders, as the noble Lord understands. These are people who were subject to the regime that we have been examining because they were at the lower end of the scale. To quote once more the former Prime Minister, these people are coming out at some point, and there has to be some principle in the way that we engage with this.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)
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My Lords, we all understand the purpose of this amendment and of the other amendments in the group, albeit that I will come on to deal with the point that arises with regard to the second amendment if I may. But I begin by referring to one or two observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He observed that when sentenced these persons were not regarded as dangerous by the court, but I cannot wholly accept that proposition. Their offences may not have been part of the extended determinate sentence regime at the time they were sentenced, but of course a number of terrorist offences were added to the extended determinate sentence regime only in 2019. It cannot be assumed that these people were regarded as non-dangerous at the time they were sentenced, so I cannot wholly accept that.

The second fact that I have to raise concerns the suggestion that those due for release in coming days are past the halfway or two-thirds point. I am advised that the prisoners due for release shortly are approaching the halfway release point in their sentences. That is simply the advice that I have been given. Therefore, there remains an issue over their release. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said, “They can wait for the Parole Board to get its act together”, but I rather think that if that happened we would face a challenge under Article 5.4 of the convention, and therefore that is not a complete answer at all.

Indeed, the noble and learned Lord talked repeatedly about fundamental points. That leads me to fundamentally disagree with him on a primary point that he kept on making, which is that the legislation would change the sentence and that they should be sentenced by the court. The legislation does not change the sentence; they have been sentenced by the court. As I alluded to earlier, there is lengthy legal authority for the proposition that the court has regard to the appropriate sentence that should be imposed for the crime irrespective of what point there may be executive action for release during the period of that sentence. In other words, it does not distinguish between the custodial and non-custodial elements. That is why the provisions of the Bill are entirely Article 7 compliant apart from anything else.

I understand the concern that arises when we have to look at the presumption against retrospective operation of the law. One thing that the Bill does is to bring the earliest release point for the standard determinate sentence into line with the earliest release point for extended determinate sentences and therefore to produce, if nothing else, an element of consistency. We have been clear that terrorist offenders should serve time in custody that better reflects the seriousness of their offending, particularly in light of recent events, and the measures in the Bill are in keeping with that approach.

I repeat the point—albeit some noble Lords do not feel that there is much force in it—that applying these measures retrospectively will ensure that terrorist prisoners who are currently serving sentences are incapacitated for longer. There is a reason for that in light of what happened, for example, in November last year.

I want to raise one further point. As I read Amendment 2, it would apply not only to those serving fixed determinate sentences but would also reduce the release point for those who have been convicted and sentenced under the extended determinate sentence regime. I suspect that is an unintended consequence—it is not the primary grounds on which I resist the amendment. In light of this debate, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment.

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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My Lords, this Bill is only one element in a much broader response to terrorism, which includes both legislative and non-legislative measures. The Government’s view is that it would be inappropriate to consider just one element of those measures in isolation. We have announced our intention to introduce a counterterrorism (sentencing and release) Bill, which has been referred to. That will make wider changes to the release arrangements governing terrorist prisoners, as well as the penalties available to the courts. The provisions of this Bill—hopefully by then enacted—and the questions surrounding discretionary release for terrorist offenders will no doubt form part of that ongoing debate.

Last month, the Government launched an independent review of the multiagency public protection arrangements. This review is being led by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall, Queen’s Counsel. The release and supervision arrangements for many of the prisoners to whom the Bill applies will inevitably be included in that review. A report following the MAPPA review will be provided to the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary for publication as soon as is practicable.

Taking up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, we anticipate that, in the course of his routine duties as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall will scrutinise the new release legislation for terrorist offenders in his annual report; that is a statutory commitment. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, observed, the Independent Reviewer has already said in his comments on the Bill that he envisages doing just that in a future report. I would certainly accept that that falls well within the boundaries of his responsibilities, and it is in these circumstances that we say that a further review is unnecessary.

The Government are clear that we want to see an end to the automatic early release of terrorist prisoners. In the forthcoming counterterrorism Bill, we will make further changes to the law surrounding the release of these offenders. In addition, later in this Session we intend to introduce a sentencing Bill that will cover wider areas of sentencing and release policy. Again, that will provide an opportunity to discuss sentencing and release arrangements. In these circumstances, we consider that there is no requirement for the further review proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and I urge him to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames
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My Lords, I turn first to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and the question that he asked me. I accept, of course, that the independent reviewer Jonathan Hall, QC will be looking at the way this Bill is working; but he will do so in a much wider context—that of his annual review and his MAPPA review. An issue of serious principle is involved. What is needed here is a precise review of how the provisions of this emergency legislation, passed with inadequate scrutiny, are working.

I turn now to the observations of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I am afraid that if this House always took the view that the House of Commons might kick back amendments we make, we would lose a great deal of our usefulness. The points that we make and the amendments we pass are often very influential to a much wider audience. I am not deterred by the fact that my colleagues in the House of Commons, who are slightly less numerous than my colleagues here, failed to get their amendment through that House, or by the fact that the Labour Party’s amendment did not succeed. I suggest that it is for us to form a view of this amendment.

When the noble Viscount went on to explain the kind of review that he foresaw as necessary and should take place, and indeed when the Minister responded to these amendments, they were both considering a much wider, more comprehensive, fuller review of the treatment and punishment of terrorists, including the Acheson recommendations on how to secure rehabilitation and the whole issue of deradicalisation. Those issues are crucial, and my regret Motion was concerned with the lack of those provisions. The very fact that the reviews that the noble Viscount and the Minister have in mind are so general and broad-reaching deprives them of the specific accent that a review of this legislation ought to have.

We should not forget the emergency nature of this legislation: it is just over three weeks since the awful atrocity in Streatham High Road. We will have passed this legislation tonight—as I am sure we will—in response to a promise made by the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Justice, the very next day. We have done it in double-quick time. Question after question was raised in today’s Second Reading—a very good debate—by noble Lords who know a lot about the subject but have had insufficient time to consider the provisions of this Bill and their consequences. As a matter of principle, it is important that post-legislative scrutiny is directed urgently at Bills that are passed as an emergency, and with this Bill, where the liberty of the subject—however undeserving many of the subjects may be—is at stake, that principle is of great importance. I have not heard anything said today that addresses the requirement for a review of emergency legislation of that kind, and I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

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Division 1

Ayes: 49

Liberal Democrat: 47
Green Party: 1
Independent: 1

Noes: 165

Conservative: 145
Crossbench: 14
Independent: 4
Ulster Unionist Party: 2