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Categorized | Law Updates

Yet more anti-terrorism legislation

Yet more anti-terrorism legislation

Prime Minister Cameron has warned that the danger posed by Islamic State (Isis) extremists presented the biggest security threat of modern times, surpassing that of al-Qaida. He is joined by many voices in calling for a range of new powers. As if there are not enough already, many of them the product of similar panic attacks.

The coalition’s package of measures does not include key proposals, shelved amid legal uncertainty, Lib Dem objections and doubts within the security services. Cameron insists that new measures are still needed to prevent British jihadis returning to this country but his rhetoric is not backed up by specific proposals.

Richard Barrett, formerly a counter-terrorism chief at both MI5 and MI6, is among many resisting a rush to overhaul its fundamental legal principles in the face of an “unproven threat” from homegrown militants fighting in Syria and Iraq. He criticised government plans for new laws to tackle British extremists, particularly the call for British jihadists to lose their citizenship. “This fundamental tenet of British justice should not be changed even in a minor way for this unproven threat – and it is an unproven threat at the moment,” he said.

It is an iron rule of government that when powers are left lying around someone will use or misuse them – witness the use of counter-terrorism legislation by local authorities in respect of such matters as dog fouling and whether or not children had the right to go to a particular school in a particular catchment area; and the use of section 44 stop-and-search powers, overwhelmingly against black and ethnic minority groups.

The danger is alive and well. For instance, police press officers claimed last week that watching the video of US photojournalist James Foley being murdered by an Islamic extremist could be a crime.

A statement issued by the London police force late on Wednesday said: “We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under Terrorism legislation.”

A blogger phoned the police, confessed that he’d watched the video of Foley’s murder and asked, “am I a terrorist now?” The police response was instructive. According to them anyone caught watching such videos will not be arrested for that alone, but the police would definitely use that information against them if they got the chance.

So lawyer David Allen Green, head of the litigation and media practices at Preiskel & Co., phoned the Met Police press office and asked the duty PR operative exactly what law people viewing the video would have broken. Not surprisingly the Met couldn’t answer. There is no criminal offence of watching videos.

Green neatly summarised what went wrong in his verdict on the police press officers’ actions in the ‘Financial Times’: “People need reliable and accurate public information, and they have the right to expect it from the well-funded PR departments of UK police forces. If a police force tells people something is against the law then it should be able to instantly say on demand what the law is. The law should not be made up by press officers as they go along.”

This is the sort of zealous misinformation that clouds genuine legislation. And that could be very dangerous. More hopeful is David Cameron’s vow to “squeeze the Islamic State (Isis) out of existence”, and his promise to build a coalition in the region against it that cannot be mistaken for a western-led intervention.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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