Some terrorist crimes are best described by common law offences rather than by bespoke legislation, barrister Max Hill QC has said in his first annual report as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation. However, Hill, head of Red Lion Chambers in London, declined to make 'firm recommendations' on what rarely-used terror laws should be scrapped.
In his 124-page report, published today, Hillsaid a review of the charging decisions and prosecutions throughout 2016 shows that, in the most serious cases, terrorism legislation 'does not always provide the right answer'.
Hill said: 'The terrorist killing of Jo Cox MP was charged and prosecuted under the common law as murder. Nobody should be in any doubt that this was a terrorist offence, but murder encapsulated the crime and was unquestionably the correct charge.'
Examples of terrorism legislation 'of great utility' include section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 (preparation for terrorism) and section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (inviting support for a proscribed organisation). However, Hill suggested careful consideration should be given to whether offences such as section 56 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (directing terrorist organisations) and sections 6 to 8 of the Terrorism Act 2006 (training for terrorism) are needed.
Hill said: 'This is not to appear weak in responding to terrorism. Far from it, As a former prosecutor, I know from many years' experience which of the existing offences best encapsulate the criminal activity which comes before our courts, and I know which of those offences have expanded since enactment, encompassing a greater practical range of activity than perhaps parliament envisaged in 2000 or 2006.'
Hill said his predecessor, barrister David Anderson QC, of London's Brick Court Chambers, rightly indicated that the reason for and extent to which bespoke terrorism legislation is needed should be questioned. 'I intend to continue that sensible theme, choosing the appropriate time to question whether the legislation we do have can be re-shaped for an ever-changing modern world,' he said.
On sentencing, Hill said modern terrorism may require higher maximum discretionary sentences, 'but it does not in my view require the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, which would stifle rather than promote the discretion which should be left to our judges'.
The Sentencing Council is due to publish new guidelines on terrorism offences this year.