Terrorism has a wide meaning in the law. It is the use or threat of action involving serious violence against a person, serious damage to property, endangering a person’s life or creating a serious risk to the health or safety of the public. It must be designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public. A terrorist is anyone who is concerned with instigating, preparing or committing acts of terrorism.
Control Orders are imposed by the Home Secretary when she has the reasonable grounds for suspecting an individual is or has been engaged in a terrorist activity, and imposing one is necessary to protect the public from the risk of terrorism. No conviction is needed to impose one, just a suspicion by the Home Secretary. The order can contain many conditions and frequently do. Conditions include electronic tagging, a curfew, restrictions on associating with others as well as restrictions on internet and telephone access. It amounts to house arrest.
There is some supervision by the courts, but only to the extent of “was the decision of the Home Secretary was flawed?”, rather than assessing the actual case against the suspect.
Stop and search
The police have power to stop and search anyone they have a reasonable suspicion of possessing stolen articles, weapons or anything that might be used to steal or do criminal damage. They can also search vehicles.
The police can get the power to stop and search people for things to be used in connection with terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000. No reasonable suspicion is required so anyone within an area may be searched. An officer of at least the rank of assistant chief constable (or commander) must give authority for them to use this power beforehand and this authority must last for no longer than 28 days.
For certain terrorism offences, the maximum time police can hold someone for is 28 days. This power comes from the Terrorism Act 2006.
Once someone has been arrested, their detention will be reviewed every 12 hours and after 48 hours a warrant is required from a judge to retain them in custody. The judge will only give the warrant if satisfied that the detention is required to obtain or preserve evidence and the investigation is being done properly. Further warrants can be issued and further time given. A warrant for detention above 14 days must be made by a senior judge and suspects have the right to make representations before him.
The limit for non-terrorism offences is much lower at just 4 days.
The main offence are:
- directing terrorist activities,
- being a member of certain ‘proscribed’ terrorist organisations,
- training others to use weapons for terrorism purposes,
- possessing articles for which there is a suspicion that they may be used in terrorism acts,
- using or raising money for the purposes of terrorism.
Terrorism law is constantly changing as the nature of the terrorist threat does. New offences are brought in often such as “glorifying acts of terrorism”. A woman was recently charged and convicted of this after writing poems. It is also an offence to not disclose information to the authorities that might be of use in preventing terrorism. There is a maximum 5 year sentence for this.
If the terrorism connection cannot be proven by admissible evidence then charges for murder, grievous bodily harm, explosives offences, firearms offences, fraud, possessing/manufacturing false documents or money laundering may be brought instead, depending on the circumstances.
Protecting the country and the general public is very important. However the law must only punish those who have been convicted of an offence after a fair and just trial. The need for security must be balanced against people’s fundamental human rights including this right to a fair trial, but also others such as freedom of speech and freedom of association.
Terrorism law frequently encroaches onto these rights. For example, those subject to control orders are denied their right to a fair trial and do not receive any chance to argue their case, to clear their name, and are effectively prisoners in their own home. Additionally people are denied their freedom of speech and freedom of association from by being members of groups, or by merely stating opinions or beliefs. Also police phone tapping is routinely carried out, but this evidence is illegal and inadmissible in the courts, and it infringes upon someone’s right to family life.
Evidence in a terrorism case is different to a normal case. Evidence of terrorism often comes from covert sources and informants and is tightly protected. The police, SOCA and the Security Services will protect sources of information from being disclosed in the course of criminal proceedings. Someone charged with a criminal offence however must absolutely know what is being alleged of him, otherwise how can he possibly defend against it? If a defendant does not know the evidence and case against him, then we can make arguments that his right to a fair trial has been infringed upon and that the case be dismissed.
The law recognises the importance of protecting people’s rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 ensures their protection. Cases can be challenged on human rights grounds in the courts and arguments on this basis are often successful.
If you would like to speak to one of our criminal solicitors regarding terrorism offences, please contact us on freephone 0808 155 4870 and ask to speak to a criminal defence lawyer in our London, Manchester, Salford or Birmingham offices.