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Terrorism Act 2000

The Terrorism Act 2000 is a current United Kingdom Act of Parliament, described as "an Act to make provision about terrorism; and to make temporary provision for Northern Ireland about the prosecution and punishment of certain offences, the preservation of peace and the maintenance of order."

It supersedes and repeals the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996.

Up to early 2004 around 500 people are believed to have been arrested under the Act; seven people had been charged. By October 2005 these figures had risen to 750 arrested with 22 convictions; the then current Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said "the statistics illustrate the difficulty of getting evidence to bring prosecution"

Figures released by the Home Office on 5 March 2007 show that 1,126 people were arrested under the Act between 11 September 2001 and 31 December 2006. Of the total 1,166 people arrested under the Act or during related police investigations, only 221 were charged with terrorism offences, and only 40 convicted.

Definition of terrorism

Terrorism is defined, in the first section of the Act, as follows:

Section 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 an international governmental organisation] 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.

Sections (2)(b) and (e) could be criticised as falling well outside the scope of what is generally understood to be the definition of terrorism, ie acts that require life-threatening violence.

Prior to this, terrorism was defined in an Act as a footnote, such as Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993 (c. 18) section 2(2):

"acts of terrorism" means acts of persons acting on behalf of, or in connection with, any organisation which carries out activities directed towards the overthrowing or influencing, by force or violence, of Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom or any other government de jure or de facto.

and Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 (c. 4) section 20(1):

In this Act "terrorism" means the use of violence for political ends, and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear.
In Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996, the criminal offences referred to as terrorism are provided as an exhaustive list of over 70 items.

This move to establish a sound definition of terrorism in the law made it possible to build an entirely new set of police and investigatory powers into incidents of this kind, beyond what they could do for ordinary violent offences.

Proscribed groups

As in previous Terrorism Acts, such as the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, the Home Secretary had the power to maintain a list of proscribed groups that he believes are "concerned in terrorism". The act of being a member of, or supporting such a group, or wearing an item of clothing such as "to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation" is sufficient to be prosecuted for a terrorist offence.

International groups

The secretary of state's list proscribes a number of international organisations, the majority due to accusations connected with Islamic fundamentalism. The list as of an update on 14 October 2005 is:

source: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/terrorism-and-the-law/terrorism-act/proscribed-groups

Domestic groups

A number of armed groups are also proscribed due to accusations arising from the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The list as of October 2005 is:

source: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/security/terrorism-and-the-law/terrorism-act/proscribed-groups

Detention without charge

Section 41 of the Act provided the police with the power to arrest and detain a person without charge for up to 48 hours if they were suspected of being a terrorist. This period of detention could be extended to up to seven days if the police can persuade a judge that it is necessary for further questioning.

This was a break from ordinary criminal law where suspects had to be charged within 24 hours of detention or be released. This period was later extended to 14 days by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 , and to 28 days by the Terrorism Act 2006.

Section 44 powers (stop and search)

The most commonly encountered use of the Act was outlined in Section 44 which enabled the police and the Home Secretary to define any area in the country as well as a time period wherein they could stop and search any vehicle or person, and seize "articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism".

The following are incidents of this power.

  • In September 2003 two people - Kevin Gillan and Pennie Quinton - intending to protest against Europe's largest international arms show, the Defence Systems Equipment International (DSEI) show in London's Docklands, were stopped and searched under the Act. There followed an outcry that this was a misuse of power. The pressure group Liberty took the case to High Court where the Judge ruled in favour of the police. In March 2006, the final appeal to the House of Lords failed, following a previous failed appeal to the Court of Appeal.
  • Walter Wolfgang was removed from the 2005 Labour Party conference for heckling Jack Straw. He was later stopped by police under the Terrorism Act. This caused embarrassment to Prime Minister Tony Blair who acknowledged that this should not have happened.
  • In October 2005 Sally Cameron was held in police custody for four hours after being arrested under the Terrorism Act for walking on a cycle path.

In his annual review of these powers, Lord Carlile observed that they have never been applied in Scotland, even during the G8 summit, and their use in the rest of the country has not been related to the terrorist risk, which he felt was uniform outside London.

Between July and December 2007, the BBC reports that more than 14,000 people and vehicles had been stopped and searched by British Transport Police in Scotland

Section 58 - Collection of information

This section creates the offence, liable to a prison term of up to ten years, to collect or possesses "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

People who have been charged or convicted of this offence include Abu Bakr Mansha in December 2005, eight suspects involved in the 2004 Financial buildings plot.

Sections 57-58: Possession offences: Section 57 is dealing with possessing articles for the purpose of terrorist acts. Section 58 is dealing with collecting or holding information that is of a kind likely to be useful to those involved in acts of terrorism. Section 57 includes a specific intention, section 58 does not. See: WikiCrimeLine Terrorism Act 2000 Sections 57 58: Possession offences

Overall impact

In his comprehensive commentary on this Act and other anti-terrorism legislation, Professor Clive Walker of the University of Leeds comments:

"The Terrorism Act 2000 represents a worthwhile attempt to fulfil the role of a modern code against terrorism, though it fails to meet the desired standards in all respects. There are aspects where rights are probably breached, and its mechanisms to ensure democratic accountability and constitutionalism are even more deficient, as discussed in the section on ‘Scrutiny’ earlier in this chapter. It is also a sobering thought, proffered by the Home Affairs Committee, that the result is that ‘This country has more anti-terrorist legislation on its statute books than almost any other developed democracy.’ (Report on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001 (2001-02 HC 351) para.1). But at least that result initially flowed from a solemnly studied and carefully constructed legislative exercise."

The Anti-Terrorism Legislation (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002

Alleged abuses of the Terrorism Act 2000

The laws have been criticised for allowing excessive police powers leaving scope for abuse. There have been various cases in which the laws have been used in scenarios criticised for being unrelated to fighting terrorism. Critics allege there is systematic abuse of the act against protesters.

Sally Cameron was arrested under the Terrorism Act and held for four hours for walking along a cycle path in Dundee. She said:

An 11-year-old girl was required to empty her pockets, before being handed a notification slip under the Act. During the G8 protests in 2005, a cricketer on his way to a match was stopped at King's Cross station in London under Section 44 powers and questioned over his possession of a bat.

Protesters

The Terrorism Act was used on protesters outside Europe's biggest arms fair, in London's Docklands in 2003. Anti-war protesters, many of them elderly, were stopped under Section 44 on their way to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, used by American B-52 bombers during the Iraq conflict.

Walter Wolfgang was famously stopped under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, while shouting "non sense" during Jack Straw's speech at the Labour Party Conference.

John Catt, an 80-year-old pensioner at the time and his daughter Linda (with no criminal record between them) were stopped, had their vehicle searched under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 by City of London Police and were threatened with arrest if they refused to answer police questions. After making formal police complaints, it was discovered they were stopped after their vehicle had been picked up by roadside ANPR CCTV cameras, after a marker had been placed against their vehicle in the Police National Computer database as a result of them being spotted near EDO MBM demonstrations in Brighton. Critics of police state policies highlight the fact that John and Linda Catt had been suspected of no crime, however using the United Kingdom's mass surveillance infrastructure they were targeted due to their association.

See also

References

External links

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