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Eligibility for release on licence of terrorist prisoners: England and Wales

Part of Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 4:45 pm, 12th February 2020

Indeed. As usual, my hon. Friend is very perceptive. This is really the main purpose of my words on the subject, because there is no downside at all in this context. I can think of circumstances where it might be arguable that there could be, because somehow or other one might be infringing some genuine human right. However, given that we are dealing with this issue for the sole purpose of preventing people from being murdered in the circumstances and in the manner of these heinous acts, and for the purposes for which people indulge in them, there can be no downside in making this absolutely crystal clear, subject to comments that may be made by other lawyers as a result of what I am saying now and, for that matter, what is said in the House of Lords.

I am not pretending that I have all the answers to every question in matters of this kind, but I do think it is our duty, in the context of what we are seeking to prevent, to ensure that we are as crystal clear as we can be in our direction to the courts that they should not and must not allow human rights considerations to allow murder to take place. That is the problem and that is why I am so emphatic about it. I have noted from the Minister’s remarks and from other conversations I have had with senior Ministers that they are perhaps more interested in questions of interpretation than I am. I do not want any interpretation in this context.

The sole purpose of this Bill is to deal with people who are going to commit murder. Let us be under no misapprehension: this Bill has not been brought forward to deal with some questions relating to the whole generality of human rights law; it is specifically emergency legislation to deal specifically with preventing people who, for a variety of reasons or without reasons, intend to perpetrate murder from doing so. Human life is at risk. That is why this is such a good move on the part of the Government. There is nothing negative in my approach; it is entirely belt and braces. If the opportunity is to be given to Parliament to make sure that we have both the belt and the braces, then for heaven’s sake let us take it and not leave it to the vagaries and the uncertainties of judicial interpretation.

I have already referred to the Hogben case. I am not going to go through the analysis, because this is not something that depends on compiling a judgment about the interpretation of law based on precedents. I do not think that any case we put forward, coming back to what my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie said, could generate an upside or a downside. I just want clarity; that is the whole point. The words that I have used adopt the “notwithstanding” formula in section 38 of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, relating to the sovereignty of Parliament. I argued this in No. 10, and the Prime Minister, to his enormous credit, completely backed me. I said, “You have to include the words ‘notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972’.” By doing this in a certain manner, one ensures that one achieves one’s objective, without the uncertainty that can arise in the circumstances that I have described.

We need to bear in mind that the Del Rio Prada case was a decision by the European Court of Human Rights. The Minister referred to the other cases. In the case of Uttley, there was an appeal on which the House of Lords concluded that article 7 would be infringed only if a sentence was imposed on a defendant that constituted a heavier penalty than that which would have been imposed at the time the offence was committed. The ECHR then declared that his application was inadmissible. The Del Rio Prada case was to do with Spanish policy, but there is no doubt that part of the argument put forward by the Government today has depended on administration, rather than the object of the Bill. That is another area that needs to be carefully considered, because the question of administration should not be the basis on which we make these decisions.

There we are—I have made my case. The Government could review the situation when the Bill goes to the House of Lords, and I will be interested to see how people develop this argument from now on.