Saturday, 15 November 2014

Further anti-terrorism powers

The Government is particularly concerned about UK citizens who travel to conflict zones and perhaps return to the UK with skills and intentions acquired from fighting or training with terrorist groups.  In a speech to the Australian Parliament, the Prime Minister (David Cameron) indicated that a new Counter-Terrorism Bill is to come before the UK Parliament with a view to getting it on the statute book by January 2015.  The Prime Minister noted that Australia had already passed new legislation to tackle foreign fighters - see the Australian Counter Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill

According to Mr Cameron, the UK Bill will contain - "New powers for police at ports to seize passports, to stop suspects travelling and to stop British nationals returning to the UK unless they do so on our terms.  New rules to prevent airlines that don’t comply with our no-fly lists, or our security screening measures, from landing in the UK."  See The Guardian 14th November and  BBC 14th November

We do not have exact details of these plans in advance of the Bill but there has already been considerable debate in legal circles as to the legality of some of the ideas.  For some of the possible problems see BBC 14th November and the reaction of LIBERTY to the proposals.

As that article indicates, critics fear that excluding Britons from returning to the UK - even if they face the most serious national security allegations - could amount to making them stateless.  Also, other countries will become involved.  For example, would (say) Turkey be happy to detain - for potentially months on end - a Briton suspected of illegally fighting for a terrorist organisation if he turns up at Ankara airport but is banned from departing for the UK?  It is not clear if the British government has negotiated any agreements with other States at this stage.  There is also the question of why these people need to be excluded in the first place given that there are already powerful tools in the State's armoury.  Can't they be arrested and charged with a terrorism-related offence as soon as they arrive back?  An alternative to arrest and charge might be to make the individual the subject of a TPIM (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011). 

On the Head of Legal Blog, Carl Gardner looks at the proposals as they are now understood.  He notes, in his analysis of the proposals  that the idea is not to completely prevent return but to impose terms if the individual wishes to return - a sort of three-walled prison .  Therefore, the individual is not rendered Stateless,  Gardner is of the view that the proposals are probably lawful.  See also Head of Legal blog - Grieve: Counter-terrorism measures "probably getting to the right place."

Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism organisation, dedicated to promoting civic interventions in the fields of extremism, integration, citizenship, identity and disenfranchisement - see their reaction to the proposals.   Quilliam stresses the need for greater emphasis to be placed on programmes such as the Channel Process

Given the international nature of this form of terrorism, it would seem to make sense for there to be an international framework for dealing with the problem.  The Council of Europe has suggested that there be such a framework - Council of Europe: Jagland: Europe needs common legal framework to fight challenge of "foreign fighters" and "Islamic State" terrorism.  Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said - “A Council of Europe framework, taking into account our democratic principles and the rule of law, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights would assist member States in adapting their legislation in full compliance with international law.”

Very broadly speaking, major British Commonwealth nations are all facing the problem of "foreign fighters" and the governmental responses are broadly similar though key differences exist.  

A publication by the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS), ETH Zurich considers the responses (as at March 2014) of eleven countries.

Publication of the Bill is eagerly awaited. 

Earlier related posts:

Fighting abroad - is it against the law? (5th February 2014) and Serious concerns about British citizens fighting abroad (22nd August 2014).

Other links:

Australian Counter Terror Laws

Canada - "And Don't Come Back" - an article looking at Canadian powers to revoke passports etc.

New Zealand is considering similar powers

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