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The Terrorism Act 2006: The New War on Terror

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Introduction

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The Terrorism Act 2006 marks a new era in the fight against terrorism since it introduces new terrorism related offences that closely borders on the infringement of fundamental human rights as enshrined in the bill of rights. The Act adopts the definition of terrorism from the Terrorism Act 2000 with few amendments. Indeed, the definition as stated under article 34 sets a stage for the introduction of new terrorism related offences. Thus, it defines terrorism as:

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 organization, or to intimidate the public or a section of the public

c)      The use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause (Terrorism Act 2000 pp.13).

Then, section 2 lists a number of circumstances that constitute terrorism activities. Based on this definition, therefore, the Act proceeds to introduce new offences related to terrorism activities. These offences include the encouragement of terrorism as provided for under section 1 of the Act. It involves the publication of a statement which is likely to be understood by all or some members of the public as a direct or indirect encouragement to them to commit, prepare, or instigate acts of terrorism or convention offences (The UK Terrorism Bill: defending Democracy’s Core Values 2006 pp. 3).

The Act also creates the offence of dissemination of terrorism publications under section 2. This offence involves the conduct of distributing or circulating a terrorist publication; giving, selling, or lending services to others that enables them to obtain, read, listen to or look at such publication. Also, there is the offence of publications that glorify terrorism under subsection 4, and provides that a matter which glorifies terrorism will be considered to amount to an indirect encouragement to terrorism. The person to whom it is available could reasonably be expected to infer the conduct which is glorified as a conduct that should be emulated in existing circumstances. Section 5 provides the offence of preparation for terrorist acts and covers the steps in preparation for the carrying out of a terrorist act. While section 6 creates the offence of terrorist training, section 8 creates the offence of attendance at a place used for terrorist training (Jones, Bowers & Lodge 2006 pp. 134).

The Act similarly the time which police may detain a terrorism suspect before formal charges are instituted. The Act extends the time by 14 days and allows the police to hold a suspect for 28 days before bringing formal charges. These new offences, coupled with the establishment of a specialist prosecution unit that exclusively deals with terrorist prosecutions, mean that investigation of terrorist offences have become more intense, and it leads to an increase in the number of arrests and prosecutions. Thus, the Act has changed the rules of the game in engagement in the war against terrorists (Great Britain 2006 pp. 114).

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The rationale for the enactment of the 2006 Act is largely based on the events of 7th July 2005 and the attempted bombings of 21st July of the same year, which brought the country into the vivid realization that it was susceptible and vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The simple truth that came out from the attacks was that terrorists had overcome the current strategies that the government had established in the fight against terrorism. It was clear that security organs and intelligence agencies were not equipped with the necessary laws and powers to combat the new emerging trends of terrorism. The Act was thus enacted to increase the powers and flexibility of its proscription regime (House of Commons 2005 pp.3). Similarly, the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, in a letter delivered to both Houses of parliament, stated that the aim of the new law to ensure that the police and intelligence agencies had all the powers which they needed to enable them deal effectively with terrorism. Thus, the Act was significant in introducing new offences relating to terrorist activities which enabled intensive and strict investigative practices from the law enforcement agencies. The Act was responding to the need to create new offences to penalize conduct, which was thought to fall outside existing statutes and the common law (Marc 2012 pp. 23).

Timeline of Legislative Stages and Decisions

The war on terrorism is one that begun long time ago and many countries in the world over have been forced to enact laws that will allow the countries to protect themselves from terrorism activities. The UK has gone through a number of legislations governing terrorism and terrorist activities. The Acts are many and they all remain relevant as they handle different aspects of terrorism and they cover different areas in relation to the changing trends in the phenomena of terrorism. Since the Labour Party came to power in 1997, a number of legislative instruments related to terrorism activities gave been enacted in response to terrorism attacks and the changing dynamics in the war against terrorism (House of Commons 2005 pp. 2). In 2000, the Terrorism Act 2000 was enacted replacing the prevention of Terrorism Act that had been in effect since 1974.

The September 11 attacks in New York and Washington which killed just fewer than 3000 people including sixty seven Britons set the tone in terrorism legislation. On October 7th 2001, British and American air attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan began, which increased the level of vulnerability of the country to terrorist attacks from other radical groups which shared the same message with the Taliban. Due to the engagement in this war, the country took precautionary measures by introducing a new anti-terrorism, crime and security bill in the House of Commons on November 12. The Bill received royal assent on December 19 of the same year. The enactment of new law led to increased arrests of suspected individuals involved in activities that could be deemed to be terrorism in nature. For instance, in January 2003, police arrested seven men in London related to a plot to manufacture the poison resin for attacks in London underground (The Impact of UK Anti-Terror Laws on Freedom of Expression 2005 pp. 16). Six men were acquitted of all the murder charges related to the poison although one was detained for another offence. In January 2004, the Extradition Act 2003, including the US/UK Extradition treaty came into effect. On the 7th of July, 2005 the attacks in London occur killing scores of people and injuring many. Barely two weeks later, are other bombs discovered which had failed to explode. Consequently, the government introduces the Terrorism Bill of 2005 in the House of Commons conferring more powers on police officers, and introduces new offences related to terrorism activities. The Bill received royal assent on March 11 becoming the new law on terrorism (House of Lords, & House of Commons 2007 pp. 6).

The Key Actors Involved

The introduction of the terrorism bill 2005-2006 in the House of Commons was largely against the backdrop of terrorism attacks that had left the country reeling from fear and uncertainty. However, this did not blur the eyes of the civil liberties organizations from fighting for a good law that respects the fundamental rights and freedoms of every individual in the country as enshrined in the bill of rights and under human rights law. The bill elicited both political and legal debates regarding some of its provisions aimed at combating terrorism (House of Commons 2005pp. 8).

One of the notable key actors in the enactment of the law was Amnesty International. The organization condemned the bill in the strongest terms possible as it denounced proposals to increase police powers of detention and make a new offence of the glorification of terrorism (Russel & Morris 2005 pp. 76). The organization termed these provisions as “ill-conceived and dangerous amounting to an attack on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law” (Russel & Morris 2005 pp. 78). The organization further stated that the Act signalled further assaults on human rights, particularly for those identified as Muslims, foreign nationals and asylum-seekers. It warned that the bill contained wide reaching and unclear provisions that undermine the rights to freedom of expression and association, the right to liberty, the prohibition of arbitrary detention, the rights to the presumption of innocence and fair trial (Russel & Morris 2005 pp. 34).

The second group that played a vital role in the shaping of the Act was the judges, lawyers, and civil liberties groups. This group condemned the bill particularly on the extension of the pre-charge detention time to 90 days which the government was initially seeking. This provision was denounced as effective internment and thus, it violated the fundamental rights of individuals and breach human rights law as far as the presumption of innocence was concerned. Similarly, the new law on glorification of terrorism received cross-cutting condemnation as a law that infringed on civil liberties. The justification for this provision was to limit the ability of militant Islamic clerics resident in the UK to preach violent Jihad and incite terrorism with seeming impunity (Edwards 2005 pp. 45). This provision was deemed to violate free speech. The argument was that such provision would considerably constrain free speech in the country as the phrasing used was too obscure, broad and subjective which stood a great chance of being applied arbitrarily to restrict human rights including freedom of expression.

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Finally, the other main actor in the enactment of the legislation was the secretary of state for Home Department Mr Charles Clark, who presented the Terrorism Bill and rallied the members of parliament to support the Act (Christian 2006 pp. 76).

Consequences for the Legislation

The enactment of the Terrorism Act has brought about a number of consequences as a result of its provisions. Firstly, the extension of the pre-charge detention by the police has led to increased arrests and detention as the police search, examine and investigate for the available evidence so as to be able to carry out a conviction. What this essentially means is that police can arrest anyone they suspect to be involved in terrorism activities and hold him for up to 28 days before being released or formerly charged (Charlie 2008 pp. 98).

Secondly, the Act introduces a number of new offences such as sale, loan, distribution or transmission of terrorist publications. The new offences also include undertaking terrorism training, preparation of or planning a terrorist act, and disseminating terrorist publications. Similarly, there is the offence relating to making or possessing radioactive devices or material and amends the Serious Organized Crimes and Police Act to make it a criminal offence to trespass on a nuclear site which is punishable by imprisonment (Alun 2006 pp. 104). There are numerous consequences which flow from the provisions of the Act including the increase of the penalty in a number of related terrorism cases and the process of trial preparation in terrorism cases.

Conclusion

The Terrorism Act 2006 mainly intends to identify new terrorism offences and criminalize such offences so that the police can be able to prosecute individuals charged with these offences. The pre-charge period has been increased in order to allow the police to protect the public from any harm as they investigate the gravity of the risk. However, the Act tramples upon civil liberties and human rights principle in the fight against terrorism. The provision on glorification of terrorism is a clear affront on the freedom of speech and expression principle as enshrined under human rights law. The Act discards the concept of innocence and ignores the rule of law.

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