1. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) supports effective measures in combating terrorism which do not undermine the universal tenets of natural justice and do not disproportionately compromise internationally recognised human rights.
2. The MCB believes that It is equally imperative that in introducing law to protect society, great care should be taken in ensuring that law should not become a weapon for destabilising our unique British society.
3. The following is a summary of the terrorism bill currently before Parliament and only the clauses pertinent to the Muslim community are mentioned below (a complete copy is available from our website):
Part 1 of the Bill
Clause 1 'Encouragement of terrorism'
4. The MCB takes the view that the existing law criminalising intent to commit offences is sufficient to deal with offenders and could be utilised more effectively in conjunction with competently targeted intelligence.
5. The Clause 1 offence of 'encouragement of terrorism' refers to the `publishing' of a statement communicated by any method. Therefore, a spoken word could be sufficient to trigger a potential offence.
6. The offence of `encouraging terrorism' is committed by a person if he/she publishes a statement (or causes another to) believing, or having reasonable grounds to believe, that members of the public will understand it as direct or indirect encouragement to commit terrorist acts. `Reasonable grounds' would be determined by what a member of the public would understand by the statement and the individual in concern.
7. The MCB notes that the offence of encouraging terrorism casts a far wider net than the `usual' incitement offences. It is currently a criminal offence to incite another to commit an offence. The current law requires proof of intention or `recklessness'. However the proposed offence of encouraging terrorism does not require such proof. The MCB is therefore extremely concerned that the offence of encouraging terrorism has the huge potential for misuse and abuse.
8. The criminal law as it stands provides wide cover for prosecution. The common law offence of incitement is supplemented by the Terrorism Act 2000. For example it is already an offence to incite others to support or `further the activities of' a proscribed organisation. The MCB is concerned that instead of there being any requirement for intent, the bill merely requires that `members of the public are likely to understand it as direct or indirect encouragement'.
9. The proposed new offence of `encouragement' is likely to have a significant impact on common place and moderate views within Muslim communities and society at large. Most Muslims were and remain vehemently opposed to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It is quite conceivable that such views could be regarded as 'encouragement of terrorism' under the proposed Bill. Existing legislation is already worryingly broad. For example, existing powers were used to remove Walter Wolfgang, an 82 year old refugee from the Labour Party conference on 2 October 2005 after hackling anti-war sentiments. This incident highlights the dangers inherent within the anti-terror legislation.
10. The effect on relations with the Muslim community should not be underestimated. These measures will serve to alienate members of the Muslim community who wish to engage with society in tackling terrorism and extremism. It will lead to many feeling that these measures are structured to silence the Muslim voice. The MCB sees engagement of Muslims in democratic debate and discourse as a priority. These measures will make it more difficult for the community to engage and consequently, may make extremist views more attractive to those ideologically vulnerable.
11. The proposed offence of `encouragement' also has the potential to stifle academic debate and research on issues directly or indirectly related to terrorist activities or organisations perceived to be involved in such activities.
12. The right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would arguably be breached by the proposed new offence. The MCB notes that comments by Cherrie Blair and those made by the former Liberal Democratic MP, Jenny Tonge, could form the basis for successful prosecutions under the proposed offence. Mrs Blair stated in June 2002 that `as long as young people feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up you are never going to make progress'. Whilst in January 2004 Ms Tonge stated, when discussing Palestinian suicide bombers, `if I had to live in that situation and I say that advisedly I might just consider becoming one myself'. The excessive and disproportionate nature of the proposed offence is demonstrated by these examples.
Clause 2 'Dissemination of terrorist publications'
13. Clause 2 of the Bill criminalises the `dissemination' of terrorist publications. It makes it an offence to distribute, circulate, sell, lend, or electrically communicate any `terrorist' publication. Possession of such material with a view to committing such an act will also be an offence. A terrorist publication is defined as `one that provides direct or indirect encouragement to commission acts of terrorism or which gives information that will be of assistance in the commission of a terrorist act'. Direct or indirect encouragement is defined as being `understood as providing such encouragement by some or all of the persons to whom it is available'. `Assistance' is defined as `something that would be useful in the commission of terrorism and understood as such by those to whom it is available'.
14. The MCB is again concerned about the broad brush approach taken in relation to this offence. Encouragement is merely defined as being understood as such by some of the people to whom the terrorist publication is available. The intention of those disseminating the publication is not relevant and a conviction could be secured if the people to whom it is available, are likely to understand it as encouragement. Also, who is to define what constitutes 'terrorist publication'? The MCB urges honest and adequate consultation with the Muslim community in establishing such definitions.
15. The MCB believes this type of offence could lead to a climate of fear and suspicion within the Muslim community that will be counterproductive in the government's stated aim of engaging with Muslim communities.
Clause 5 'Preparation of terrorist acts'
16. Under Clause 5 a new offence of 'preparation of terrorist acts' is created. In principle the MCB accepts that such an offence may be required. The prosecution of suspects with acts preparatory of terrorism may be easier than charging suspects with conspiracy. However there needs to be more certainty as to which acts are covered.
17. For an offence to be committed all that is required is that a person `engages in any conduct in preparation'. The MCB asserts that an element of intention to commit or assist in acts of terrorism must be required. However the proposed offence is yet again extremely broad and could lead to an element of intention being implied into innocent acts of generosity such as a family member allowing a person to be a house guest. It is MCB's view that at the very least and in any event in addition to the requirement of intention, the types of behaviour likely to lead to a criminal offence should be specifically defined within the act.
Clause 6 'Training for terrorism'
18. Clause 6 creates a new offence of `training for terrorism'. The MCB agrees that those that train people to commit terrorist attacks should be prosecuted. The offence is similar to that already enacted by Section 54 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The new offence also extends to cover those who suspect (as well as know) that the training will be used for terrorist purposes. This is extremely broad and will lead to allegations on baseless suspicions. For example a person who may innocently provide flight training to a person who later on is found to have engaged in terrorist activity, may be prosecuted under this new offence. It would be argued that he should have become suspicious of the persons' motives because of the person's interest in only certain types of training. Such expectations would be unreasonable and onerous. The MCB believes that the Clause as currently drafted could lead to the arrest and possible prosecution of innocent persons. Given the current climate, such a measure is likely to disproportionately affect the Muslim community. It is our view that this offence should be limited to those who `know' or `have good reason to believe' that such training will be used for terrorist purposes.
Clause 8 `Attendance at a place used for terrorist training'
19. Under Clause 8 `attendance at a place used for terrorist training' will be considered an offence. Like the other proposed offences in the Bill this offence too is unduly broad.
20. Under this clause it would seem that an offence is committed simply by attending the place where the training takes place. Mere awareness that the place is used for training, without being involved in any training will be sufficient to have committed an offence and could result in a custodial sentence. There is no requirement for intent or a particular act being committed. This offence will cover innocent persons that may be attending a place for a different reason such as worship or for socialising and yet will be deemed to have committed a criminal act. For example, there have been allegations that Finsbury Park mosque may have been used for training by some attendees. However the vast majority of attendees who visited the mosque for prayer were not aware of any such activities.
Clause 9 11
21. Clauses 9 to 11 introduce a range of offences relating to radio active devices, materials and facilities, to which the MCB has no principled objection.
Clause 12 'Trespassing etc on nuclear sites'
22. Clause 12 is an extension of the offence of criminal trespass set out in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. Whilst the MCB has no principled objection to this, it is concerned that peaceful protesters that demonstrate around a perimeter fence are likely to be committing an offence and would urge an amendment to this Clause to ensure that trespass without knowledge of the boundary is excluded as is peaceful activity.
Clause 17 'Commission of offences abroad'
23. Clause 17 is a provision for treating offences committed abroad as having been committed in the UK. The MCB accepts that it is appropriate that those who plan terrorist attacks in the UK whilst abroad should be punished. However this Clause goes much further and must be viewed with extreme concern. All the offences contained in Part 1 of the Bill are covered by Clause 17 and hence our objections to such offences 'encouragement of terrorism' apply. For example any person anywhere who `encourages' terrorism will be committing an offence.
24. There is no requirement for an intention to commit an offence in the UK. Hence, any person committing an offence, with no connection to the UK, could be convicted in the UK. We do not believe the intention of this Clause is to allow the UK to prosecute such persons. This Clause is ill conceived and requires tighter drafting.
Clause 18 Liability of Company Directors etc
25. Clause 18 extends liability to Company Directors or other officers if an offence under Part 1 of the Bill is committed by a corporate body. The MBC opposes such a clause given the broad and often vague nature of many of the offences listed in Part 1.
Clause 19 Consents to prosecutions
26. Although prosecution under Part 1 of the Bill cannot take place without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), we suggest that this should be used and seen only as a safety mechanism. It must not be seen or sold as a justification for the extremely broad nature of many of the provisions under Part 1.
Part 2 of the Bill
Clause 21 'Proscription of terrorist organisations'
27. Under the Terrorism Act 2000 a number of organisations are proscribed by law. Clause 21 of the Bill extends to cover non-violent organisations who `glorify' terrorism. There are currently 25 proscribed organisations including Al Qaeda and other groups associated with international terrorism. Under Section 11(1) of the Terrorism Act there is a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for being a member of a proscribed organisation which includes merely supporting or furthering the activities of that organisation by any method.
28. The MCB opposes the banning of extreme political parties and groups not involved with violence or its incitement. This Clause allows for the censorship of political views and for the prosecution of those who have never made any `glorification' comment themselves. Doing any act to support a proscribed group will be a serious criminal offence. It should also be noted that there is no safety mechanism as this offence is under Part 2 of the bill and therefore the DPP's permission will not be required for prosecution.
29. This measure is contrary to the freedom of association enshrined in Article 11 of the ECHR. Such measures are undemocratic and will lead to many feeling that Muslim opinion is being muzzled. It will have a negative impact on the engagement with young Muslims in democratic debate and discourse. We believe that it will lead to known extremist organisations becoming underground movements which will be difficult to control.
Clause 23 and 24 'Detention of terrorist suspects'
30. The Bill contains a proposal to allow the extension of pre-charge detention to a maximum of three months from the current limit of 14 days. This is essentially the equivalent of serving a six month prison sentence. This is over 20 times the pre-charge detention limit for murder, rape and organised crime.
31. The MCB is most strongly opposed to the detention of suspects without charge for such a lengthy period of time. The need to gather evidence and the methodology required is not dissimilar to other serious and complex offences. There is no evidence to suggest that the recently doubled interview period of 14 days is insufficient to make decisions on whether to charge suspects. Given the current state of affairs, we believe huge caution should be exercised in any increase to the incarceration of individuals, who are potentially innocent.
32. We believe that the proposed extension to pre-charge detention period would breach Article 5 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in that it would be a disproportionate limitation to the right to liberty. There are existing solutions if the police have genuine difficulties. For example, the use of powers of bail under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allows conditions to be placed such as tagging, curfew and reporting conditions.
33. The vast majority of people arrested under terrorism laws are released without charge. In the current climate there can be no doubt that most of these will be Muslim. The government must consider the impact that the arrest of persons without charge and their subsequent release will have on the Muslim community. It is likely that this measure will lead to a strong distrust of the security services and this would have a negative impact on the anti- terrorism effort. The MCB prefers a partnership approach involving a combination of targeted intelligence, policing and projects dealing with the root causes of terrorist activity. The proposed measure is likely to have a negative impact on social cohesion particularly in areas with large Muslim communities that have been affected by social unrest in the past.
The proposed offences of encouragement of terrorism and dissemination of terrorist publications are too broadly drafted. There is no requirement of intention to incite others to commit criminal acts and may lead to those with legitimate views about the rights of Muslims or others suffering oppression across the world being affected.
The inclusion of 'glorification' of terrorism as an aspect of the 'encouragement' offence will criminalise legitimately held views. The new offence will breach the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR. It will alienate moderate Muslim opinion and may fuel more extreme views.
The plan to extend pre-charge detention to a maximum of three months is dangerously close to internment. Huge caution should be exercised in any increase to the current limits. The proposed extension will have a negative impact on relations with the Muslim community. It is most likely that young Muslims will be disproportionately affected by this measure and this will make it more difficult to engage with such groups in a democratic debate and discourse.
The existing law in this area is adequate. It should be utilised more effectively in conjunction with targeted intelligence and by creating relationship of trust and understanding with the community.