Examination of Witness

National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:34 am on 7th July 2022.

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Jonathan Hall QC gave evidence.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

We will now hear oral evidence from Jonathan Hall QC, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. Before calling the first Member to ask questions, I should like to remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that we must stick to the timings in the programme motion that the Committee has agreed. For this panel we have until 12 noon. Could you please introduce yourself for the record?

Jonathan Hall:

My name is Jonathan Hall and I am the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, a position that I have held since 2019.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Mr Hall, thank you very much for giving up your time for us this morning. I understand that this is your first time giving evidence to Parliament, and this is my first time leading a Bill Committee, so we are in similar territory.Q

Do you agree that utilising the tools made available in the Bill will enhance our ability to deal with the current threats, and give us the flexibility to respond to the changing threat landscape?

Jonathan Hall:

Yes, the measures in part 1 and part 2—I will talk about part 3 at some later stage—contain tools that are necessary. I am not a state threats specialist—I am terrorism specialist—but I have had a chance to interrogate officials, and it is clear that there are determined and well-resourced adversaries who will not be put off by a knock on the door to say, “We know what you are up to.” The agencies and the police need measures to prosecute and PIMs—prevention and investigation measures—which are special measures.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q Following on from that, what should the proposed STPIMs regime—state threats prevention and investigation measures—learn from how terrorism prevention and investigation measures were administered and used?

Jonathan Hall:

There are two things. First, the official who chairs the review group meetings, which are to decide whether to submit to the Secretary of State that a measure ought to be imposed, or the group which reviews whether they remain necessary and proportionate, needs to be really strong. This is what I have witnessed, I am glad to say, with terrorism prevention and investigation measures. That official has to be able to really hold the agencies in particular to account, and really test and probe what they are saying, both about the intelligence that is being given to the review group and about whether the measures remain appropriate. The first message from the TPIMs is that you need to have a strong chair of the TPIM review group, or the equivalent, the PIMs review group.

The second thing is that one of the experiences from TPIMs is that it is really difficult with connectedness. People who are under those measures can become very isolated, and I think that officials have struggled with whether to allow those people to have smartphones or access to the internet. These days it is very difficult to function as a normal member of society unless you have access to those. One of the lessons that will be learned from TPIMs is how to try to square the circle to ensure that people cannot do bad communications but while also allowing them to function normally in the world with access to normal communications technology.

Photo of Scott Mann Scott Mann Assistant Whip

Q The Bill allows for oversight of STPIMs. In your view, what is the strength of the independent function of your office?

Jonathan Hall:

First, it is being able to go to the room where it happens—the meetings where these decisions are taken. When I review TPIMs, I have a completely free hand. I am able to interrogate officials and able to see whatever I want. That is really important. I am not just looking at judgments in courts, or just reading documents; I am actually there able to interrogate, test and challenge. That is what I do. Also, I think it is important that Parliament and the public have a sense of what is going on. Regrettably, because legal aid has not been made available in all cases for TPIMs, there are now fewer court cases, so general information about how this important but serious power is being exercised is relatively cut off. The independent reviewer can provide a lot of transparency about how it is operating.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you ever so much for your time this morning. May I take you to clause 49, which refers to an independent reviewer carrying out a review of part 2 of the Bill? If it is Q appropriate for you to say so, have you been approached by the Government to consider how appropriate it would be for your office to take on that review of part 2? What is your assessment of how appropriate that would be compared with setting up a new independent reviewer for state threats legislation?

Jonathan Hall:

It has been tentatively mentioned. Obviously, because the legislation has not been passed, I have not been formally asked whether I would do it, but it has been tentatively asked. My answer is that I think it actually is quite a good fit for the reviewer’s job, and I think it probably is right that the person who does the independent review of terrorism legislation should also do the state threats legislation. The reason is that this new legislation is really modelled on terrorism legislation. In crude terms, the concept of the foreign power condition sits in place of the purposes or acts of terrorism, and then there is the same framework in terms of very strong arrest power, detention up to 14 days, strong powers of cordons and search and investigations, and, of course, the PIMs. There are so many learning points between the two regimes that it does make sense.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q In your experience, do you think that that level of review should apply to part 1 as well as part 2 of the Bill?

Jonathan Hall:

Having thought about this, I do. I do not think that decisions on prosecution are going to be made other than in really strong and good cases. Where I think one needs particular care is with all the strong powers that come before prosecution, for example with arrest and detention, as well as the PIMs, which are based not on beyond reasonable doubt but on the balance of probabilities.

We have to acknowledge that we live in quite a polarised world at the moment and that citizens of individual countries, such as Russia and China, and those who associate with them, are bound to fall under suspicion. There is a parallel here, in the sense that people used to argue—I think wrongly, but they did argue —that counter-terrorism laws in England and Wales were anti-Muslim, and I think having a reviewer is one way of offering reassurance that that is not the case.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Thank you very much. Following the thread of the Minister’s questions on the state threat PIMs and having read your most recent review specifically on TPIMs, may I ask how effective you envisage the state threat PIMs to be, given your understanding of the implementation of TPIMs?

Jonathan Hall:

I expect that they will be effective because the agencies and the Home Secretary will only think about imposing one when they think it is going to work. There are many more subjects of interest who have terrorist intents than are currently on TPIMs, and I expect that the same will be true in relation to people who are foreign threats. There will be many more people who are identified as foreign threats who will actually go under PIMs. At the moment I think only two people are under TPIMs, so it is very few. I would have thought that the agencies and the Home Secretary will think very carefully before imposing them.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q I noted your assessment of the introduction of polygraphs. Have you been able to consider their use in any ongoing cases?

Jonathan Hall:

What I have been told is that polygraphs have not been used for TPIMs, as far as I am aware, but they have been used for released terrorist offenders and some disclosures have been made. Everyone always thought that the real utility of polygraphs and the clear reason for their use is the disclosures that people make when undergoing the process. I gather that some admissions have been made that have been valuable and have led to a recall. I do not have a huge amount of data, but they seem to have had some success in the context of terrorism offences.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Mr Hall, thank you for being with us this morning. Coming back to STPIMs, you spoke with the shadow Minister a little bit about effectiveness but I want to ask for your thoughts about necessity. From your experience with the counter-terrorism regime, how do these sorts of devices get deployed and why? On transparency, I know there are sometimes concerns that these things may be used in large numbers. Will you say a word about how many TPIMs have typically been in operation at any one timeQ ?

Jonathan Hall:

I cannot remember the total number of TPIMs. I think it is around 30, but I may be misremembering and that may also include—

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

That is over a number of years, of course.

Jonathan Hall:

Yes. The maximum I remember in any year is up to six; at the moment it is down to about two. The authorities ran quite a successful campaign, using TPIMs against members or former members of al-Muhajiroun. Those have tended to drop off, and we are now looking at a very small clutch—I think it is only two now.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Q In terms of their usefulness in the suite of what is available in order to counter these threats in the terrorism field, which obviously is your primary area of expertise, can you say why one might elect to use a TPIM?

Jonathan Hall:

First of all, where there is good intelligence that an individual is up to no good but it is impossible to prosecute them. There may be secret sources of intelligence—information coming from allies or from electronic means that could not be disclosed—that mean that the agencies know perfectly well that someone is a real risk. Having had the opportunity to read the intelligence, I know that there certainly are cases where people are very dangerous and are engaging in attack planning but could not be prosecuted. These measures allow a huge amount of control.

One of the key measures for the really serious people is moving them from their home location. They find it much harder to operate if they are outside their home location: they do not have the people around that they know, and they find it a more hostile operating environment. There will also be some people whose threat really comes from the propagation of terrorist propaganda, so the measure might be directed towards their use of electronic devices and the internet.

Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Q Given that there is obviously a lower burden of proof—there is no court case—and given the numbers of TPIMs that we have spoken about, are you satisfied that the proportionality is satisfactory?

Jonathan Hall:

Up to a point. I have expressed my disappointment that because legal aid is not now available as of right for all TPIM subjects, there is a cohort of TPIM subjects who are not getting court reviews. In the absence of the court having the opportunity to test the proportionality, it is particularly important that the Home Office official who chairs the TPIM review group’s meetings is really testing, and I also feel that I have to play that sort of role myself. I have certainly seen cases in which it has been debatable whether the measures have been too strong, particularly in relation to electronic devices, and whether enough attention is being given to allowing people to live a useful life without presenting a threat to the wider public.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

I am going to move on to our next question now, from shadow Minister Jess Phillips.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

This is a convenient place to start, because I want to focus on part 3 of the Bill, which is obviously taken up with legal aid and civil remedies. You have already said that you are okay with parts 1 and 2 of the Bill in earlier statements, so I will just give you the floor to express your view on part 3 of the Bill.Q

Jonathan Hall:

I have one thing to say about part 1, but we will come back to it. Part 3 is different from parts 1 and 2, because I believe that part 3 is not there to meet an operational need. Generally speaking, I think the reason why the public support terrorism legislation is that they believe that laws are being passed to improve their security—obviously, today is the anniversary of 7/7. Here, the changes are intended to be entirely symbolic. The first thing to do is to recognise that it is quite unusual in the context of terrorism legislation to enact a measure that is really symbolic, and therefore it needs to be justified with care.

My concern about the legal aid, beyond the symbolism aspect, is that the class of individuals who are going to be affected by this is very wide indeed. The justification for removing legal aid from convicted terrorists is that they have broken their links with society. Of course, we all understand that in the context of an Islamic State would-be suicide bomber or someone of that nature, but the same effect will be felt by children who are arrested for document offences—in other words, having a copy of “The Anarchist Cookbook” on their computer.

As you know, there are now many children who have been arrested and prosecuted for terrorism offences. It also catches people who do not get custodial sentences at all, so the cohort of people captured is very wide indeed, and I do not myself understand why the decision has been taken to include not just the most egregious examples of terrorism-convicted people, but also people who may never have gone to prison and may have very quickly—one hopes—gone back into normal life. That is my general point about aid. I have expressed further points about how it is possible that this measure could be counterproductive. Should I pause there?

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q I would agree with you. I feel it is counterproductive. You are an expert on terrorism; I am an expert on violence against women and girls, grooming and the link between people who perpetrate terrorism and a previous history of domestic abuse. Could you see a situation arising—you may well have these cases; I have seen some—where a woman who is a victim of domestic abuse falls foul of this legislation, because of an association with her abuser who goes on to be convicted of terrorism, because she cannot access civil legal aid to go to family court and stop her children being taken by that terrorist?

Jonathan Hall:

I do not think so, because legal aid is termed individually. In the example you are giving, the woman in question would not be a terrorist convict, so she would be able to apply for legal aid.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q But what if she had been convicted because she shared some information? I am mindful of the fact that a high percentage of those women who are referred to the Prevent programme—it is over 50%—are found to be victims of domestic abuse.

Jonathan Hall:

Then, yes. A woman who has previously been convicted of a terrorism offence would be forced to resort to what is known as exceptional case funding. As I think the Justice Committee has reported, it is very difficult to get solicitors to even apply for exceptional case funding and there are great difficulties in getting hold of it urgently. I suspect it will be said that, for the worst cases of domestic violence, it would be granted. I do not know if that is the case.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

I am going to have to move on to the next questioner. I would appreciate it if colleagues could be succinct with their questions. I will allow a couple if you are succinct—otherwise it is just one question.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

I shall be succinct, then. Thank you for attending, Mr Hall. Are you comfortable with the change in language between the focus on non-state actors and state actors? I am thinking in particular from the perspective of your terrorism background.Q

Jonathan Hall:

I think what you mean is, am I comfortable with the fact that legislation has now been passed that is dealing with state threats, when previously the focus had been on terrorism? If that is what you are saying, then I think I am comfortable, because I accept and recognise that we live in a contested and uncertain world. Focusing on state threats is now a very sound necessity.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North

Q This is the succinct follow-up: when it comes to the link between state actors and non-state actors—who are actually proxies for rogue states and other aggressive foreign powers—do you think we have got the balance right in being able to capture the intelligence we need to combat those threats?

Jonathan Hall:

I think the two regimes—the terrorism regime and the state-threats regime—should be sufficient. There are obviously people operating in the grey zone at the moment who might be able to say, “We fall outside the remit of terrorism legislation,” for example, the Wagner Group. If they are acting on the battlefield in support of Russia, we would have difficulty seeing them as terrorists. I think this legislation probably fills some gaps.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Mr Hall, you said that the agencies would think very carefully before using an STPIM. I think that is correct. You have also said that the evidential test for deploying an STPIM is self-evidently lower than securing a criminal conviction. Do you give any credence to the argument that the STPIMs might move from being measures of last resort to being used more frequently because they are easier to deploy? Do they therefore undermine some of the criminal provisions in the Bill?Q

Jonathan Hall:

I do not think so, if the regime operates as it is intended to, because the Bill replicates the obligation for the Secretary of State to consider whether it is possible to prosecute in the first place. I do not think in practice that they will become a measure of first resort, just because they are so resource-intensive and complicated. I suppose it is possible that, unlike some of the terrorist TPIM subjects who are individuals without a huge amount of access to resources, some of the individuals who may be under an SPIM could be backed by a huge amount of resources, which means that there will be perhaps more significant litigation than there has been with TPIMs; I do not know.

The point is that you are dealing with people at a lower level than beyond reasonable doubt. Intelligence is fragmentary and it is possible to make a mistake. It is always important to bear that in mind, with a degree of modesty and humility, when these really strong measures are being imposed.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

Q On the point about beyond reasonable doubt, one of the conditions in clause 33 to deploy an STPIM is that the Secretary of State would reasonably believe that the individual is or has been involved in some activity. If we remove “beyond reasonable doubt”, is “reasonably believes” sufficient, or should it be on the balance of probability?

Jonathan Hall:

My view is that it is the same thing.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q You said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley that you had a point to make about part 1. I want to give you the opportunity to make that point.

Jonathan Hall:

I am slightly uncertain and concerned about the scope of clause 3(2), the foreign intelligence services offence. On the face of it, an offence could be committed inadvertently, and it does appear to cover quite a lot of lawful conduct. The example that I have been debating with officials is the example of someone who sells miniature cameras, which is undoubtedly conduct of a kind that could assist a foreign intelligence service. My concern with clause 3(2) is that it does not seem to have a sufficient mental element, either that the individual who commits the offence is deliberately acting prejudicially to the UK interest, or knows or ought to suspect that there is some foreign intelligence service involvement, so I have a concern about that particular clause.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

You mentioned that restrictions to legal aid could be counterproductive and could harm rehabilitation efforts. Can you please expand on that?Q

Jonathan Hall:

Not all terrorists are cold, calculating, ruthless killers who will go and commit terrorist acts whatever their circumstances. They may exist, but there are also quite chaotic terrorist-risk offenders. I have certainly come across cases where the terrorist risk from the individual—the chance of their stabbing someone, for example—goes up if they are not taking their medication or if they are homeless.

My concern about the legal aid is that it will make it harder, for example, for a terrorist offender, maybe 10 years after they have been released and who is facing eviction, to get legal aid. That means that you might have less good decisions made and a sense of injustice or grievance on behalf of the terrorist offender, who will perhaps say to themselves, “Why can’t I get legal aid when everyone else in my situation can?” My real concern is people becoming homeless or falling into debt when they might otherwise be able to get legal assistance.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allocated to the Committee to ask questions. On behalf of the Committee, I thank Mr Jonathan Hall QC for giving evidence in this session.