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

Part of Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:15 pm, 30th June 2020

I will speak to the amendments relating to younger offenders. There are a couple of things to be clear about first of all. For the sake of absolute clarity, offenders who are under the age of 18 are not subject to the 14-year minimum prison sentence. Only offenders over the age of 18 are subject to those provisions. The amendments relate to offenders aged between 18 and 21, so we are discussing a very specific cohort.

I agree and concur with many points that the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth made about rehabilitation, and about the increased opportunity for rehabilitation for younger people. It is of course the case that younger people are more open to change—particularly as their brains mature—than older people, and it is right that we try to work with them to achieve that. I would not dispute that as a general principle, but clause 4 as drafted applies to an extremely small subsection of those offenders aged between 18 and 21. It by no means applies to the generality of offenders, including terrorist offenders, aged 18 to 21. It applies to that narrow subsection who have committed a serious terrorist offence, as we have discussed already, but it also requires a finding by the judge, following a pre-sentence report—something the shadow Minister referred to in his amendment and in his speech—of dangerousness. What a finding of dangerousness means in law is that there is a significant risk of the offender causing serious harm by committing further serious terrorism or other specified offences.

There are already two hurdles to jump: a serious terrorist offence, followed by a finding of dangerousness based on a pre-sentence report. However, there is also a third hurdle that must be jumped before a younger offender aged 18 to 21 would fall into the scope of this clause, which is that, at the time of committing the offence. they were aware, or should have been aware, that their offence was very likely to result in or contribute to multiple deaths. That is a well-established test dating back to section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000. We are talking about an extremely small subsection of offenders aged 18 to 21 and a very small subsection even of terrorist offenders—those who meet all three of those criteria.