Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) Statement

The new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2020,  will not enhance public security. On the contrary it will:

  • extend punishment without trial, including even internal exile, renewable indefinitely;
  • Turn ordinary crimes into ‘terrorist’ ones, as subjective grounds for more severe sentences;
  • Incentivise racist stereotyping of ‘non-violent extremism’ to justify those two powers;
  • and thus go further in criminalising communities.

In the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown, the Home Secretary has tabled a draft bill on 20 May when any serious parliamentary and civil society scrutiny is well nigh impossible.

This is the eighth Counter-Terrorism Bill following the founding Terrorism Bill 2000 which made emergency powers permanent and became the basis of subsequent bills which were put in after significant terror attacks.

CAMPACC have always argued that criminal law had sufficient provisions to deal with any terrorist threat. The creation of separate terrorism laws severely undermined civil liberties, the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, the rights of association and criminalised communities.  It has created a securitisation infrastructure that provides for funding and career advancement of securocrats. It has produced a burgeoning surveillance network. It has framed the ‘enemy within’ particularly Muslims to justify the involvement in wars and counter insurgency abroad.

The Bill follows in the wake of the terror attacks at Fishmongers Hall on 29 November 2019 and in Streatham on 2 February 2020.  The draft bill claims to aim to protect the public better by ensuring that serious and dangerous offenders are locked up longer enabling more time for their disengagement and rehabilitation.  When outside custody, it aims to monitor and manage the risk posed by the offenders.

In all such terrorist incidents there were intelligence failures. Instead of tackling such failures which have happened too often, the government aims to ratchet up further repression.  The greatest risk is for innocent individuals to be caught up and their lives seriously torn apart by the powers in the bill.

We, together with a coalition of other organisations,  fought the control orders, a system of indefinite house arrests introduced by the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2005 over four years. The Act was repealed and replaced by the Terrorism Prevention and Investigative Measures (TPIMS)  in 2011.

Although repressive in every way, TPIMs had a term limit of two years. This act removes the two year limit and hence make TPIMs with annual renewal indefinite. Furthermore, it allows the government to relocate an individual to any place within the country, without due consideration of his family and community relationships. This is akin to internal exile used in the British colonies, where individuals were totally isolated.

TPIMs are imposed by the Home Secretary.  Previously the evidence for imposing this was subjected to ‘balance of probabilities’, a proof used in civilian law. That has been swept aside. They can now be imposed if there was a reasonable grounds of suspicion, which is an arbitrary judgment made by officials.

So, as with previous counter-terrorism measures,  individuals suspected of non-violent extremism, who have committed no crime, could fall in the net without any recourse to a fair trial. Individuals who have not committed any crime at all, would have their lives ripped apart by this measures.

We are especially concerned in the way that the bill widens its application to common law offences where determinations will have to be made whether each case has a ‘terrorist connection’.  Under this, whether a crime like stabbing is considered to be a ‘standard’ crime, a ‘gang-related’ crime or a ‘terror-related’ crime will leave it open to discriminatory decisions with the outcome likely to depend on whether the perpetrator is black or Muslim, respectively.

The bill defines a range of serious terrorist offences which intend to cause serious harm and introduces the Serious Terrorism Sentence for the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders. This sentence carries a minimum of 14 years to be spent in custody, with an extended licence period of up to 25 years.

It also increases the maximum sentence that the court can impose for three terrorism offences (membership of a proscribed organisation, supporting a proscribed organisation, and attending a place used for terrorist training), from 10 to 14 years, properly reflecting the seriousness of this type of offending.

Proscription of political associations is already a serious issue for many British communities. The bill would have a chilling effect on the Kurdish community who have a long history of resistance against the authoritarian Turkish state. Their organisations PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) has been proscribed since 2001. The law outlaws political activity and organisation within the Kurdish community. The community members have never been involved in acts of terror in Britain. The recent Belgium Court judgement that the PKK was not a terrorist organisation but a party in conflict is notable. It is about time PKK was de-proscribed. Its continued proscription has always given the Turkish state an excuse to ratchet up repression and deny Kurds of any of the political and human rights.

The Tamil community will be similarly intimidated. It is a community recovering from a genocide and defeat and subjected to repression by the Sri Lankan state. The Basque, Somali Baloch and Palestinian community are in a similar situation with their main political organisations banned.

The truth that the government has not confronted, is that, for two decades its counter-terrorism strategy has failed.  We have seen sporadic terror attacks where critical intelligence has failed to pick them up. No level of repressive measures eroding civil liberties and the rule of law in the name of security has protected the public. The government has failed to recognise that its unjust wars and support for repressive regime has led to increased threat of terrorism.

Lord Steyn’s critical observation when discussing the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 remains true in 2020: ‘.. it is the first duty of Government to protect citizens from harm  ….but it does not excuse the endless excesses and acts of lawlessness committed in the name of the war on terror…   Surely, objectively speaking, the Bill can be seen to be an attempt to lead the public to think that it is a serious attempt to improve security. It does nothing of the kind.’

More powers for cops, spooks and judges are not in the interests of ordinary people—the bill must be opposed by every one and every organisation who are defending civil liberties and are fighting against the criminalisation of innocent civilians and vulnerable communities.

9 July 2020

Supported by

Prof Bill Bowring, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London

Thomas Schmidt, Secretary General, ELDH European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights

Mike Mansfield QC

Richard Norton-Taylor, writer on Defence and Security

Dr Thomas Miley, Cambridge University

Dr Thomas Phillips, Liverpool John Moores University

Margaret Owen O.B.E., barrister

Julie Ward, former MEP

Chris Stephens MP

Dr Radha D’Souza, University of Westminster

Dr. Andy Higginbottom, Associate Professor, Kingston University

Kariane Westrheim, Chair, EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC)

Eliza Egret, journalist, Shoal Collective Research Group

Kevin Blowe, Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol)

Sarah Glynn and Stephen Smellie, Co-Convenors or Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan

Emily Apple, journalist

James Kelman, writer

Dr Camilla Power, University of East London

Dr Felix Padel, Oxford University

Trevor Rawnsley, lecturer

Jonathan Bloch, writer

Nick Hildyard, policy analyst

Barry White, journalist

David Morgan, journalist

John Hunt, journalist

Sarah Parker, writer, translator

Dr Les Levidow, academic researcher

Dr Derek Wall, Goldsmith, University of London

Saleh Mamon, retired teacher

Zaher Baher, writer and activist

Bruce Kent

Gareth Peirce, lawyer

Gianni Tognoni, General Secretary Permanent People’s Tribunal

Tony Simpson, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation

Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru

Dr Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, writer

Aonghas Macneacail, Gaelic writer and poet

Shiraz Durrani, Librarian and Publisher

CAMPACC

http://campacc.org.uk

e-mail: [email protected]

07846 666 804