Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

Serious concerns that new powers in Counter-Terrorism Bill do not comply with human rights

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am chair, today publishes our report highlighting serious concerns with the new powers in the Government's Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill currently going through parliament.

The Government have got an important job to keep us safe from terrorism. But it must also safeguard human rights.

The Committee believes that this Bill goes too far and will be tabling amendments in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  

New powers are too vaguely defined

Having taken evidence from Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, we are concerned that some of the new powers are too vaguely defined and do not have sufficient safeguards to protect human rights. 

Findings of report

Clause 1

The Joint Committee acknowledges the importance of the Government’s power to proscribe organisations but is concerned that criminalizing ‘expressions of support’ for proscribed organisations could prevent debate around the Government’s use of its proscription powers.

Clause 2

Proposes to criminalise the publication of images online which arouse suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation (e.g. a photograph of an ISIS flag hanging on someone’s wall posted to the internet) goes too far and also risks violating the right to freedom of expression

Clause 3

This clause criminalises viewing terrorist material online where such material is viewed three or more times.

The Committee believes that this is a breach of the right to receive information.

Committee concerns

The Committee believes that there need to be greater safeguards for the increased period that the Bill gives for the retention of biometric data (such as fingerprints and DNA).

At the same time as it increases the powers to retain data, the Bill abolishes the oversight of the Biometric Commissioner.

This risks violating the right to privacy of persons who have neither been charged nor convicted.

The Committee is concerned that powers to stop and search at ports are defined too widely.

These powers can be used to stop people to decide whether they threaten the economic well-being of the UK.

On these grounds, the Committee has serious concerns that the Bill as it stands does not comply with Convention rights.

Committee recommendations

The Committee therefore recommends that:

  • Clause 1 of the Bill, at a minimum, is amended to clarify what expressions of support would or would not be caught by this offence and to ensure that the offence does not risk criminalising debates disproportionately: for example in a way which would prevent someone putting forward a case for why a particular organisation should no longer be proscribed
  • Clause 2 should be deleted or at a minimum amended to safeguard legitimate publications (e.g. for journalists and other legitimate activity which should not be criminalised)
  • Clause 3 at the very least, should be amended to ensure that it only captures those viewing material with terrorist intent and to clarify the defence of reasonable excuse
  • The increase in maximum sentences for certain terrorist offences must be justified
  • The enhanced notification scheme for registered terrorist offenders needs stronger safeguards
  • The Prevent programme should be subject to an independent review
  • The removal of the Biometric Commissioner's oversight of DNA material and for extending the retention period from two to five years without clear notification and review options must be justified
  • The stop and search powers must be circumscribed and subject to more robust safeguards.

 

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