Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 12th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee 1:50 pm, 12th February 2020

I certainly agree that we need a more detailed analysis of the best approach to a threat that continues to change and develop. My hon. Friend is right about that, and it is right that this is a discrete, emergency measure to deal with a specific and urgent problem. We certainly need to look at the way in which we deal with sentencing, the treatment of such individuals and the protection of the public in that context—that is absolutely right. I happen to believe, lest it be hinted otherwise, that that is perfectly capable of being achieved within our continuing adherence to the European convention on human rights and that a series of British court decisions would tend to support that, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right on the broader thrust that there is more work to do in this field. I got the sense that the Government and the Lord Chancellor recognise that, too.

It is right that we should consider the necessity of the Bill. I would have thought that that had been well laid out now. That is one of the principles of the rule of law. Lord Bingham famously set out a number of principles. One should not act in haste unless there is a compelling reason, but the reality of blood being shed on the streets of this country seems a compelling reason to me. The fact that people have been released and then have swiftly, and frequently, seized articles and used them to catastrophic effect seems to make this legislation both necessary and proportionate, so I hope that the House will have no hesitation in supporting it.

One issue that seems to have raised some concern, particularly in legal circles, is whether there is any risk of retrospectivity. I do not seek to see retrospective legislation, and for the reasons that the Lord Chancellor set out I do not believe that that is the case. When I was in practice at the Bar, it was very clear that the prospect of whether early release might occur was not a consideration that any judge should take into account in passing sentence. The principle was, and always has been, that the sentence passed should be commensurate with the gravity and seriousness of the offence and any other legitimate mitigating or aggravating circumstances that the Crown or the defence can put forward. Whether there may or may not be early release thereafter was never regarded as a consideration affecting the penalty.

That is important for the argument that the Bill retrospectively increases the penalty, which I think is a misguided argument in these circumstances. It was often said that the prospect of early release in effect ameliorates the penalty that was passed, rather than anything else. There is a string of authority in both the UK and Strasbourg courts to the effect that the total duration of the penalty is that which is laid down by the court at the time. That is the bit that cannot be changed retrospectively and the legislation does not seek to do that.