A terrorist is anyone who is concerned with instigating, preparing or committing acts of terrorism. Someone charged with terrorism or that person’s family would be wise to become aware of the basics of the law surrounding these offences. They are not as straightforward as ‘normal‘ crime, and the government and media interest in these cases can make every inch in the fight to a not guilty verdict seem like a mile.
At Mary Monson Solicitors, we have acted in terrorism work, and understand the effect these investigations and prosecutions can have on defendants and their families. We fight for our clients with the aim that that they get a fair trial in spite of all of the injustice that is sometimes perpetrated by the state.
Terrorism Offences – The Law Explained
The main offence relating to terrorism 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.
The law relating to terrorism offences is constantly changing. New offences are brought in often such as “glorifying acts of terrorism”. A woman was notably 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 a person charged with terrorism on this basis, even if they have done nothing active to further a terrorist plot.
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. This is often a way of the state getting the result it wants, by fair means or foul.
Control Orders are imposed by the Home Secretary when he or she has 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 for specific terrorism offences is needed to impose one, just a suspicion by the Home Secretary. The order can contain many conditions and such orders frequently do. Conditions include electronic tagging, a curfew, restrictions on associating with others as well as restrictions on internet and telephone access. It usually amounts to a very onerous house arrest.
There is some supervision by the courts, but only to the extent of ‘was the decision of the Home Secretary 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 and the person need not be charged with terrorism, 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.
Human Rights of a Person Charged with Terrorism
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 terrorism offences must absolutely know what is being alleged of him. If a defendant does not know the evidence and case against him or her, then a specialist defence lawyer must fight with the prosecution to obtain disclosure. These disclosure battles may ultimately be fought out in court, with the judge deciding.
Unbelievably to defendants, the court may not even give access to the defence lawyers in this argument, because they may be excluded. This is a developing area of law, and some safeguards are in place to give a specially appointed ‘Special Counsel’ to act for the defence in these closed hearings, but the result is often unsatisfactory.
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.