Amendment to the Motion

Part of Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill - Second Reading (and remaining stages) – in the House of Lords at 6:24 pm on 24 February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Lord Macdonald of River Glaven Crossbench 6:24, 24 February 2020

My Lords, this Bill places convicted terrorist prisoners in a special category and makes special rules for the administration of their sentences. I consider this approach justified.

Terrorism offences represent a uniquely broad and dangerous threat to not just the public but the organisation of society. They are a twin attack on both individuals and the body politic. In the face of this analysis, it seems to me actively perverse for a state to grant early release to terrorist prisoners who are believed to remain a threat to the public. The Government are right to abolish the automatic right to early release in these cases and, by altering the purely administrative arrangements around the relevant sentences in this way, the Government do not offend any presumption against retrospectivity. This change is proportionate. It strengthens public protection and offends no principle of law.

What of the provision that increases the period to be served before release may be considered? My view is that this, equally, is a proportionate provision that strengthens public protection and offends no principle of law. To alter the period that must pass before a prisoner may be considered for early release is not to alter the original penalty that was imposed by the sentencing court. To do that would precisely offend the presumption against retrospectivity, but the Government’s proposal does no more than alter a particular aspect of that original penalty’s implementation. The penalty itself, the sentence imposed by the judge, remains the same. I do not believe that such a modification in any way engages a presumption against retrospectivity.

A justification for this measure is readily apparent: strengthening public protection from a uniquely dangerous category of offender. The uniqueness of the danger represented by terrorist offenders lies in the fact that their crimes are motivated by ideology and that this ideology positively and precisely mandates the commission of further similar crimes. This means that every proportionate step must be taken to ensure that the prisoner’s ideology has been sufficiently tempered before early release can be considered. In my view, that easily justifies a requirement that a longer period should be served by convicted terrorists, as opposed to other prisoners, before they may be considered for early release to allow for a deeper and more intensive examination of this important question than might otherwise be available in their case.

I strongly agree with the part of my noble friend Lord Carlile’s speech on deradicalisation and probation provision and its present hopeless inadequacy. In isolation, without more, this legislation just kicks the can down the road—not very far in some cases, because we are dealing with prisoners who will be released, even under the provisions of this Bill, in the near future. We need to develop multiagency deradicalisation programmes, but I agree with my noble friend Lord Evans of Weardale that these do not guarantee anything. We will also need to develop programmes for post-release supervision and, if necessary, control. Because these programmes would only follow criminal conviction for terrorist offences, in my view they could easily—depending on how they are designed—be proportionate and appropriate in these particular cases. All this needs thought, effort and a good deal of investment, but if the Government really wish to protect the public they should urgently commit all three.