Serious terrorism sentence for adults aged under 21: England and Wales

Part of Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 3:00 pm, 30th June 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. I rise in support of amendments 37, 45 and 46, standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North. I want to cover some general principles in what is my first opportunity to speak in this Bill Committee. Like the Government, we are committed to keeping the public safe and we share the desire to ensure that attacks such as those at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham never happen again—attacks where convicted but released terrorists were able to kill and maim innocent people.

We recognise the importance of adequate and appropriate punishment in sentencing, but punishment and sentencing must go alongside rehabilitation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said on Second Reading:

“We must not lose faith in the power of redemption—the ability of people to renounce the darkest chapters of their lives and move towards the light.”—[Official Report, 9 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 213.].

For that, those offenders need an effective deradicalisation programme tailored to their motivation and circumstances, and they need hope—hope that before too long they can rejoin their family; that they can get meaningful work. They could even steer others away from the path they took before. I point out that programmes have operated in prisons in Northern Ireland with convicted paramilitaries on both sides of the troubles. In the later years of the troubles, those men became beacons of peace and reconciliation, educating young people towards positive paths.

Some contributions on Second Reading sometimes felt like support for a policy that almost veered on “Lock ’em up and throw away the key”. However, as many submissions and expert witnesses to this Committee have said, removing hope from these offenders and the opportunity to prove they are safe does not make the rest of us safer. I might add, even locking up people indefinitely, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford said earlier, does not protect us anyway. It does not prevent them from radicalising others. It spawns martyrs, not to mention the cost to the public purse of incarcerating prisoners for ever longer periods. As we heard this morning from the Prison Officers Association, there is also the danger to prison officers of attacks from angry men who have no hope of release in the foreseeable future.

I fear that some aspects of the Bill are born from a reaction to the terrorist atrocities in the last seven months and have been brought in without due research into what might work to further reduce the risk of attack from radicalised individuals, whether they are of a Daesh/ISIS persuasion, from the far right or, as a number of terrorists in the UK still are, rogue Irish paramilitaries.

The Fishmongers’ Hall and Streatham attacks were both committed by offenders who had been released automatically halfway through their sentence with no involvement of the Parole Board. Of course, with Labour support, the Government have now brought in the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020, which ends the automatic early release of terrorist offenders and ensures that any release before the end of a sentence is dependent on a thorough risk assessment by the Parole Board. I am therefore not quite sure why the Government want to take the Parole Board out of sentencing now, without any adequate alternative provision being put in place.

Before I make some specific remarks, Dave, the father of Jack Merritt, who was killed in the Fishmongers’ Hall attack, wrote poignantly about how his son would have perceived the political reaction to his death, because of course Jack Merritt worked in the criminal justice system on the rehabilitation of offenders. Dave wrote:

“What Jack would want from this is for all of us to walk through the door he has booted down, in his black Doc Martens. That door opens up a world where we do not lock up and throw away the key. Where we do not give indeterminate sentences, or convict people on joint enterprise. Where we do not slash prison budgets, and where we focus on rehabilitation not revenge. Where we do not consistently undermine our public services, the lifeline of our nation. Jack believed in the inherent goodness of humanity, and felt a deep social responsibility to protect that.”

As I said, I support the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South