'Enough is enough': no early release for terrorists
By Nicola Laver
No convicted terrorist entitled to automatic early release will be allowed to leave prison until the Parole Board says they can, under emergency laws which will be enacted with retrospective effect.
The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill is to be put to MPs today and will, said Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, mean offenders who are still considered “a threat to public safety” will be forced to remain in prison.
It follows two separate attacks carried out recently - the Fishmongers’ Hall attack in London Bridge and the Streatham attack - both carried out by terrorist offenders shortly after their early release from prison.
Once passed, the legislation will prevent the automatic early release of around 50 extremists who are currently serving standard determinate sentences.
Under the existing law, there are no powers authorities can deploy to prevent an offender’s release, even if they show concerning behaviour.
None will be considered for parole until at least two-thirds of their sentence has been served; nor will they be released before the end of their sentence without a thorough risk assessment by the Parole Board; and its approval to the prisoner’s release.
Once released, the individual will then be subject to safeguards which could include notification requirements, restrictions on travel and communications, and curfews.
The law will affect offenders sentenced for crimes such as terrorism training, membership of a proscribed organisation and the dissemination of terrorist publications.
Buckland said: “No dangerous terrorist should be released automatically only to go on to kill and maim innocent people on our streets.
“Enough is enough. This government will do whatever it takes to keep the public safe.”
Government is also planning to strengthen deradicalisation measures in prisons by introducing a 14-year minimum prison sentence for the worst terrorist offenders.
It also pledged more money for the police to deal with terrorist-related crimes.
The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent by the end of this month but legal challenges on the basis of human rights law are expected.
Michael Field, barrister at Freemans Solicitors, said the proposed emergency legislation may well face legal challenges, so far as it relates to existing prisoners.
He commented: "[They] were told at the point of sentence that they would be automatically released after serving one half of their sentence.
"The Human Rights Act 1988 Sch.1 Art.7 provides a legal guarantee to those prisoners that they will not receive a heavier penalty than was applicable at the time they committed the offence(s)."
"The Government will no doubt argue", he added, "that the amendment addresses the administration of the sentence rather than its length, which would remain unaltered.
"It will be for the court to determine whether that argument is sustainable."
Responding to today's development, Law Society president Simon Davis said: “Applying this bill retrospectively will change the rules for many prisoners mid-sentence, meaning that time on licence will actually be spent in prisons.
"More prisoners will choose to appeal their sentences, placing an additional burden on our already overstretched justice system.”