Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Explanatory Notes

Policy background

3. Terrorism offenders can receive a variety of sentences depending on the offence committed, and dangerousness. Many receive a determinate sentence, where prisoners are entitled to be released on licence once they have served one half of their sentence. They continue to serve their sentence in the community on licence until the expiry of the sentence. Others in England and Wales receive a SOPC, under which prisoners may be considered for release by the Parole Board once they have served one half of the custodial element of their sentence. In England and Wales, those assessed as dangerous may receive an extended determinate sentence (EDS) under which they may be considered for release by the Parole Board once they have served two-thirds of the custodial element of their sentence. In Scotland, offenders receiving Extended Sentences may be considered for release after serving half of the custodial element of their sentence. Extended sentences and SOPCs have a custodial term and a separate extended licence set by the court as part of the sentencing exercise. There are also some former release provisions that still apply to older sentences from the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and older types of extended sentences imposed before the current EDS regime came into force which retain previous release arrangements.

4. Release arrangements in Scotland changed in 2016; long term sentences imposed before that point resulted in automatic release at the two thirds point if the prisoner had not been released earlier on a Parole Board recommendation. Since that change, those serving extended sentences have remained eligible for release from the half way point but without automatic release before the end of the custodial term.

5. Following the events at Fishmongers’ Hall on 30 November 2019, the government announced a new approach to the sentencing and management of terrorist offenders. 1 This included:

Introducing longer sentences for the most serious dangerous terrorist offenders and ending early release for other serious dangerous terrorist offenders;

An overhaul of prisons and probation, to include tougher monitoring conditions and doubling of counter-terrorism probation officers;

Counter-Terrorism Police funding to be increased by £90 million for 2020/21; and

A review of support for victims of terrorism, including an immediate £500,000 to the Victims of Terrorism Unit.

6. The government is also launching an independent review of the way different agencies, including police, probation service, and the security services investigate, monitor and manage terrorist offenders – called Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).

7. Many of these measures are underway, and those focused on ensuring the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders spend longer in prison, with strengthened licence periods, will be included in a new Counter-Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill.

8. In January, Parliament passed the Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2020 which amends in England and Wales the automatic release point from half-way to two-thirds of the sentence for those convicted of a relevant violent or sexual offence (defined within the Order as an offence listed in Part 1 or 2 of Schedule 15 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for which the maximum penalty is life) and sentenced to a standard determinate sentence of 7 years or more. This will come into effect on 1 April 2020 and will apply to persons sentenced on or after that date.

Fast-track legislation

9. The government intends to ask Parliament to expedite the parliamentary progress of this Bill. In its report, Fast-track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution recommended that the government should provide more information as to why a piece of legislation should be fast-tracked. 2

Why is fast-tracking necessary?

10. The Bill will come into force on Royal Assent. This legislation is needed urgently to put appropriate safeguards in place before further terrorist offenders are released from prison There are prisoners due for automatic release before the end of February 2020 who fall into this cohort of terrorist offenders who present a particular risk to the public.

11. The incidents at Fishmongers Hall on 30 November 2019 and in Streatham on 2 February 2020 demonstrate that the United Kingdom faces an unpredictable risk to public safety from released terrorist prisoners. Following the incident in Streatham on 2 February the government decided to take immediate action to end the automatic release of terrorist offenders before the end of their sentence. This Bill will apply to all serving prisoners, as well as those sentenced in the future.

What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?

12. The Bill is brief and the reasons for the fast-tracking of its provisions are set out above.

What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?

13. It is necessary to secure Royal Assent before any further prisoners who may pose a serious threat are released under the law as it stands. The government will ask the House of Commons to pass the Bill before Parliament goes into recess on 14 February. The House of Lords will consider the Bill after returning from the February recess on 24 February. Given the need to prevent further terrorist prisoner releases, it has not been possible to give Parliament more time to scrutinise this short Bill.

To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?

14. With the need to pass the legislation ahead of forthcoming releases from prison, it has not been possible to give interested parties and outside groups an opportunity to influence this short Bill.

Does the Bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why does the government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?

15. The Bill does not include a sunset provision. The government wants to provide clarity about the point at which existing and future terrorist offenders will be subject to discretionary release, and a sunset clause would risk uncertainty and confusion for prisoners and for prison authorities.

Are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why does the government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?

16. No post-legislative scrutiny is planned. However, the government intends to introduce a Counter-Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill later in this Session.

Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question?

17. Yes. Currently, the law is clear that in England and Wales terrorist offenders serving standard determinate sentences, and in Scotland those serving short term sentences of under four years are eligible for automatic release, without Parole Board discretion, at the half way point of their sentences. Legislation is therefore urgently required to change the existing law on automatic release of convicted terrorists.

Has the relevant parliamentary committee been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?

18. The House of Commons has not yet agreed the membership in this Parliament of the Joint Committee of Human Rights, the departmentally-related select committees which scrutinise the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, or the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.

1 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tougher-sentencing-and-monitoring-in-government-overhaul-of-terrorism-response

2 House of Lords’ Constitution Committee, 15th report of session 2008–09, HL paper 116-I, para. 186

 

Prepared 10th February 2020