Counter-terrorism tools 'may be withering on the vine'

Published on Thursday, 23 January 2014 09:38
Written by Govtoday staff

In a report published today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights says that Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures may be "withering on the vine" as a counter-terrorism tool of practical utility.

It also concludes that in 2015 the new government must urgently address the role and effectiveness of these measures within the context of a broader review of counter-terrorism powers.

As of 30 November 2013 there were eight TPIM notices in force, all of which were in respect of British citizens. TPIM subjects are subject to restrictions including overnight residence at a specified address, GPS tagging, reporting requirements and restrictions on travel, movement, association, communication, finances, work and study. Most of the current TPIMs are due to expire shortly, but the committee believes that parliament was right to impose a two year limit on their duration: such serious restrictions on liberty, imposed outside of the criminal justice system, cannot be indefinite.

The committee calls on the government to put more information into the public domain about the types of work it has carried out with TPIMs subjects with a view to minimising any risk of terrorism-related activity when their TPIMs expire, including a fuller explanation of how that work relates to its other work on "de-radicalisation."

In the report, the committee:

  • expresses concern about the government's degree of engagement with the work of the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation and urges the government to engage more transparently and substantively with his recommendations;
  • concludes that these measures are not "investigative" in any meaningful sense and so should be referred to as Terrorism Prevention Orders, or something similar, to reflect the reality that their sole purpose is preventive, not investigative;
  • agrees with the independent reviewer that the very nature of TPIMs carries an inherent risk of the subject absconding, and that the reaction to such incidents must not be allowed to undermine the general principle that restrictions on each TPIM subject must be individually tailored to the risk that they are assessed to present;
  • recommends that more information about the internal review of TPIMs following the two abscondings by TPIMs subjects should be put into the public domain to enable public and parliamentary debate about and scrutiny of the lessons to be learnt .

The committee notes that the home secretary's statements that the two TPIMs subjects who have absconded do not pose a direct threat to the public in the UK serve as a stark reminder of the breadth of the statutory power. It recommends that the breadth of the vaguely worded power to impose TPIMs, "for purposes connected with protecting the public form a risk of terrorism", be kept under careful review by the independent reviewer. The committee intends to subject to rigorous scrutiny any proposal to enable terrorism suspects to be deprived of their UK citizenship even if it left them stateless.

The committee does not accept that the absconding of two TPIMs subjects means that the power to relocate terrorism suspects available under the previous control order regime should be reintroduced. It considers that a power to relocate an individual away from their community and their family by way of a civil order, entirely outside the criminal justice system, is too intrusive and potentially damaging to family life to be justifiable.

The committee also recommends that the government further considers specific ways in which the impact on TPIM subjects and their families can be mitigated, and that a judicially led process be initiated to address concerns about unfairness and delays in TPIM proceedings, similar to that which has already taken place in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, the chair of the committee, said: "We are not clear that these measures continue to be as practically useful as the government claimed they would be when the act was passed in 2011. There is no evidence that they serve any investigative function and even as preventive measures they seem to be going out of favour with the agencies.

"Very few TPIMs are in operation and almost all of these are due shortly to lapse after their two year duration. However, we have too little information about the security situation and about the individuals on whom these measures have been imposed to make a proper judgment about whether the power to impose them is no longer required.

"The next government will need to look again at these measures within the context of counter-terrorism powers more generally; and, in the meantime, more information needs to be put before parliament – and the public – so that well-informed judgments can be made about the necessity for and effectiveness of TPIMs."

Source: Joint Committee on Human Rights

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