Thursday, 21 August 2014

Terrorism Law ~ Police warn that viewing terrorist material may be an offence ...

Over recent weeks horrific events have taken place in the Middle East.  These events have included the murder (by decapitation) of journalist James Wright Foley who was captured in 2012.  In many quarters, the word "execution" has been used.  I prefer the word "murder" because that is precisely what it is. It is believed that the alleged killer is British - see The Guardian 21st August 2014.   If that proves to be correct then he could be charged with murder and tried in an English court - Offences against the Person Act 1861 s.9

A further sickening development was that the murder was filmed and the film posted on to the internet. Of course, it is beyond belief that any right-thinking decent person would wish to view such material.  Nevertheless, the Metropolitian Police saw fit to issue the following warning:

'We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under terrorism legislation.'

This prompted the leading writer on legal matters - David Allen Green - to question whether merely viewing this material could actually be an offence under terrorism law. 
Mr Green took the matter up with the Police.  He published an article about this in his Times blog 21st August.  Please read the article - Registration is required but it is free to do so.

It appears that the Police either could not or would not clarify the precise law under which mere viewing may be an offence though Mr Green states that sections 1 and 2 of the Terrorism Act 2006 were referred to.  Here is a necessarily very brief look at those sections.

Terrorism Act 2006 sections 1 and 2

These are complex provisions aimed at preventing by criminal sanctions either the encouragement of terrorism (section 1) or the dissemination of terrorist publications (section 2).  Both section 1 and section 2 contain specific requirements relating to "mens rea" (guilty mind) and these are, of course, crucial in the definition of the offences in question. 

Suppose, as an example, that D viewed the video and then sent it electronically to another.  Such conduct would come with section 2(2)(e) - 'transmits the contents of such a publication electronically; ' -
BUT it would still be necessary for the prosecution to prove that D either`

(a) intended an effect of his conduct to be a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; or
(b) intended an effect of his conduct to be the provision of assistance in the commission or preparation of such acts; or
(c) that he was reckless as to whether his conduct has an effect mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b).

As for mere viewing of such material, it would require a very broad interpretation of the law to be able to say an offence had been committed.  The argument might run along the lines of mere viewing is to be interpreted as encouragement AND intent ( or recklessness) with regard to encouragement would be implied from the mere viewing.  

Sections 1 and 2 of the 2006 Act provide for defences - see sections 1(6) and 2(9).

The reasoning of the Police in saying that viewing may be an offence is not clear and Mr Green did not succeed in getting further clarification.  Having said all of this, as David Allen Green says, ' ... no sensible or civilized person would want to watch this video.'   I absolutely agree with that and would not in any way encourage anyone to flout the Police advice.  After all, according to Mr Green, they opted to stand by their warning.

Explanatory Notes to the Terrorism Act 2006 are available.

Daily Mail 20th August 2014 - Police warn .............. - contains a comment by barrister Adam Wagner (editor UK Human Rights blog)

*** NOTE - The government is keen that people report terrorist or extremist material which is found on the internet - See here
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1 comment:

  1. What a conundrum. Are we just then to believe the reports that the video is exactly what it puports to be?

    What about any investigation/discussion that it may be a fake video, used for propaganda purposes/psyops in the media (particularly as such material surfaces at oh-so-convenient times as to justify military action/spending/killing)?

    & another point is that the video was 'discovered' by Rita Katz's SITE Intelligence Group, you know, the 'group' that happened to 'discover' all the Osama Bin Laden videos............