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MPs voice serious human rights concerns about latest terrorism bill

27th Jul 2018

Hamed Chapman

Powers under the Government’s latest counter-terrorism legislation proposals are “too vaguely defined and do not have sufficient safeguards to protect human rights,” according to a new Parliamentary report.

“The Government have got an important job to keep us safe from terrorism. But it must also safeguard human rights,” the Joint Committee on Human Rights warned this month.

The counter-terrorism and border security bill “goes too far.” Academics, journalists and those with “inquisitive and foolish minds” would be at risk of prosecution and prison sentences of up to 15 years.

Committee’s Chair, Harriet Harman, said that the All-Party group of MPs will be tabling amendments to the bill currently going through Parliament in both the House of Commons and the House Lords.

Security Minister, Ben Wallace, however, said that his Government does “not agree” with the committee’s conclusions in respect to human rights concerns. “Its conclusions are misplaced and wrong,” he argued.

The bill refrains from introducing a host of new offences but instead seeks to update some of the existing ones while also trying to close existing loopholes in the laws.

“We are concerned that some of these ‘updates’ extend the reach of the criminal law into private spaces, and may criminalise curious minds and expressions of belief which do not carry any consequent harm or intent to cause harm. In doing so, some of these offences risk a disproportionate interference with the right to privacy, the right to freedom of thought and belief, and the right to freedom of expression,” the report said.

These include attempts to criminalise ‘expressions of support’ for proscribed organisations where the person expressing support is reckless as to whether the person to whom the expression is directed will be encouraged to support the proscribed organisation.

“It is not clear what types of speech would constitute an ‘expression of support’. This could have a chilling effect, for instance, on the academic debate during which participants speak in favour of the de-proscription of proscribed organisations.”

The major concern in criminalising academic and journalistic research as well as inquisitive or foolish minds was in the viewing of material online ‘of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.’ The defence of reasonable excuse is available but it is “not clear what constitutes legitimate activity for the purpose of this defence.”

Other fears expressed concerned extra-territorial jurisdiction, increasing sentences, additional notification requirement, powers to enter and search homes, proposed anti-terrorism traffic regulations, retention of biometric data and on border security.

Over the controversial Prevent [extremis] programme, concern was expressed about any additional responsibility placed on local authorities without adequate training and resources rather than first conducting an independent review previously called for of how the programme is currently operating.

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