Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

21.  Submission from the Mayor of London on the Terrorism Bill

  1.  Following the deplorable and tragic attacks in July the Mayor fully supports the Government's review of existing counter-terrorism legislation. It is vital for the safety, security and economic health of London and the UK that counter-terrorism measures are robust and effective. As the directly elected head of London's regional government, the Mayor is in a unique position to represent the concerns and interests of Londoners.

  2.  The London bombings brutally served to demonstrate that there must be a range of appropriate and rigorous measures that can be used to prevent attacks on the innocent and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

  3.  The Mayor is deeply concerned that a number of the provisions in the Terrorism Bill may criminalise those who oppose terror and whose cooperation is vital to the police. While the Mayor recognises the pressing need to tackle terrorism decisively and effectively, lasting success is unlikely to be achieved if we rush into legislation that lacks consensus and if we fail to take with us those communities whose support and trust are vital.

  4.  At a time when Londoners are standing united against those who threaten our city's security and multiculturalism, it is essential that we properly consider the potential impact on community relations of criminalising some non-violent behaviours and groups. Such steps will isolate and disenfranchise those who may disagree with the Government's perspective on struggles past and present, but who oppose violence.

  5.  The emphasis must be on developing effective engagement with all communities, and developing policies and laws that not only protect, but also unite. It would be both regrettable and dangerous if new anti-terror laws inadvertently add to the hostility faced by minority groups from some sections of society through presenting visible minorities, or particular faith groups, as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

  6.  The onus must be on the Government to present a clear and compelling case for why the current law on incitement is inadequate and broader measures are required—specifically, who and what is the new law designed to address that existing legislation does not? This case has not yet been made.

  7.  At a time when the democratic principles that underpin our society are under threat, the Government should strive to safeguard our right to express opinions that are controversial or even offensive. One person's freedom fighter is another's terrorist. It is the freedom to debate—and to disagree—that helps to make our society strong.


  8.  Clauses 1 and 21 of the Terrorism Bill, which relate to the encouragement and glorification of terrorism by individuals and organisations, give cause for greatest concern. While Clause 1 is undoubtedly an improvement on draft Clauses 1 and 2, it would still make it quite possible for an individual to be prosecuted for making a statement that unintentionally encourages an act of terrorism.

  9.  Under the definition of terrorism that will be used for the purposes of this Bill, it could be argued that the African National Congress was engaged in "terrorism", as it was involved in a military conflict with the Apartheid regime. Both the ANC and its supporters could therefore have been caught by Clauses 1 and 21.

  10.  Indeed, any non-state actors involved in a military conflict where democratic means to resolve issues do not exist, irrespective of the circumstances, could arguably be deemed to support terrorism and fall foul of these clauses. Laws that would criminalise those who supported action against the regime of Adolf Hitler, will undermine the legitimacy of our anti-terror efforts.

  11.  The trust and cooperation of all our communities is indispensable to isolate and defeat supporters of terrorism. If legislation is framed too loosely, people who totally condemn terrorist attacks may fear that legitimate views on, for example, the conflict in the Middle East, make them and others vulnerable to prosecution. In those circumstances, they are more likely to be wary of contact with the police and less likely to volunteer information that could prove crucial to counter-terrorism investigations.

  12.  For similar reasons, the Mayor sees no purpose to banning organisations that do not advocate or support terrorism. Driving such organisations underground, where they are impossible to engage with, would be counter-productive and make intelligence-gathering more difficult.

  13.  The Mayor recognises the importance of proscribing organisations that directly incite violence. However, clause 21 will significantly broaden the criteria for proscription to include the "glorification" (defined as "any form of praise or celebration") of acts of terrorism. The use of such a vague term risks outlawing wholly non-violent groups which happen to have a different view to the Government on certain political issues or historical events.

  14.  The Mayor recognises the considerable challenges faced by the Police in gathering enough evidence to bring charges against terrorist suspects. However, the Mayor fears that proposals contained in Clause 23, to extend the period of pre-charge detention of suspects from 14 days to three months, could prove to be highly counter-productive and that a better balance between the demands of operational policing and the rights of the individual must be found.

  15.  Clause 23 is likely to impact on British Muslims disproportionately. The Mayor is concerned to avoid a situation in which possibly innocent Londoners will be held for up to three months—equivalent to a six month custodial sentence—without charge. This would impact not only on the individuals involved, but also on their families and their communities, and significantly dent public confidence in policing.

  16.  The Mayor firmly believes that only united communities will defeat terrorism and protect human rights. The Mayor, Liberty, faith communities, MPs, peers, trade unionists and lawyers have together launched a campaign to ensure that any measures adopted by Parliament and the Government against terrorism do not criminalise people who condemn attacks like the ones on 7 July and who urge communities to work with the police to find those responsible.

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Prepared 5 December 2005