Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

3.  Copy of letter from Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department to Rt Hon David Davis MP and Mark Oaten MP, re the definition of terrorism applicable to the new offences in the Terrorism Bill

  I have today written to John Denham regarding the definition of terrorism that will apply to the new offences in the Terrorism Bill since he had raised the issue with me. I thought it worth writing to you in a similar vein.

  As you will know, the new offences in the Terrorism Bill attract the existing definition of terrorism which is contained in the Terrorism Act 2000. For ease of reference I attach a copy of that definition at annex A. We are making one slight change to that definition in the Bill to ensure that threat to international organisations, such as the United Nations, as well as to national governments is covered.

  I believe that any definition of terrorism should be one that is well established and that we should not seek to fashion a new one for this Bill. We have therefore looked at the existing definitions of terrorism in international conventions.

  The latest EU definition is the one used in the Council Framework Decision of 13 June 2002. The definition which that convention contains is in annex B. The only earlier EU definition—the Council Common Position on Measures to Combat Terrorism of December 2001—is substantially the same but goes slightly wider to encompass those who direct or participate in terrorist groups.

  I don't believe that this definition is substantially different from the UK's existing definition and it is hard to see that it has any advantages over it. Certainly, if one were looking to narrow the definition, there is no conduct included in the UK's current definition of terrorism which would be excluded if we moved to the EU definition.

  There is no single UN definition of terrorism and that is why negotiations are taking place at the moment on a UN Comprehensive Convention against Terrorism.

  UN security Council Resolution 1566, agreed on 8 October 2004, contains a statement of the actions which it believes should be criminalised (annex C) though not a formal definition. This statement is fairly widely drawn but excludes serious damage to property so, had it been in place, would have meant that the PIRA attacks on the City of London in the 1990s would not have constituted terrorism.

  The latest draft of the UN Comprehensive Convention also contains a definition of terrorism (annex D) though I must stress this has not yet been agreed and negotiations are still ongoing. Again it is hard to see what the advantage of this definition, should it be agreed, would be over what we have already.

  I understand the desire to try to find a definition of terrorism that concentrates on attacks on civilians but so far as we can establish no such definition currently exists. Not only that, but I would be concerned by any definition of terrorism which would have excluded PIRA attacks on British troops or the property attacks mentioned above from its remit, to say nothing of attacks on British forces in Iraq or Afghanistan. If nothing else we need to ensure that we are able to proscribe organisations that engage in such activities.

  My view, therefore, is that we need to stick with the definition that we have. An important safeguard is that any prosecutions for offences in Part 1 of the Terrorism Bill require the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions/Attorney General which will ensure that prosecutions which are not in the public interest do not take place.

  I am copying this letter to Lord Carlile, the Rt Hon Paul Murphy, Rt Hon Alan Beith, and Andrew Dismore. I am also placing a copy in the Library.

25 October 2005

Annex A


  1.—(1)  In this Act "terrorism" means the use or threat of action where—

    (a)  the action falls within subsection (2),

    (b)  the use or threat is designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and

    (c)  the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.

  (2)  Action falls within this subsection if it—

    (a)  involves serious violence against a person,

    (b)  involves serious damage to property,

    (c)  endangers a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action,

    (d)  creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or

    (e)  is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

  (3)  The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection(1)(b) is satisfied.

  (4)  In this section—

    (a)  "action" includes action outside the United Kingdom,

    (b)  a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,

    (c)  a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country outside the United Kingdom, and

    (d)  "The government" means the government of the United Kingdom, a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.[1]

  (5)  In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.

Annex B


  1.  Each Member State shall take the necessary measures to ensure that the intentional acts referred to below in points (a) to (i), as defined as offences under national law, which, given their nature or context, may seriously damage a country or an international organisation where committed with the aim of:

    —  seriously intimidating a population, or

    —  unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any acts, or

    —  seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation,

shall be deemed the terrorist offences:

(a)  attacks upon a person's life which may cause death;

(b)  attacks upon the physical integrity of a person;

(c)  kidnapping or hostage taking;

(d)  causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility, including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss;

(e)  seizure of aircraft, ships or other means of public or goods transport;

(f)  manufacture, possession acquisition, transport, supply or use of weapons, explosives or of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons as well as research into, and development of, biological and chemical weapons;

(g)  release of dangerous substances, or causing fires, floods or explosions the effect of which is to endanger human life;

(h)  interfering with or disrupting the supply of water, power or any other fundamental natural resource the effect of which is to endanger human life;

(i)  threatening to commit any of the acts listed in (a) to (h).

Annex C


  Recalls that criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature, and calls upon all States to prevent such acts and, if not prevented, to ensure that such acts are punished by penalties consistent with their grave nature;

Annex D


  1.  Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person, by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes:

(a)  Death or serious or bodily injury to any person; or

(b)  Serious damage to public or private property, including a place or public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or the environment; or

(c)  Damage to property, places, facilities or systems referred to in paragraph 1(b) of this article, resulting in or likely to result in major economic loss,

    when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act.

1   This is being amended in the Terrorism Bill to include international organisations, such as the UN. Back

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