All 1 Lord Dholakia contributions to the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020

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Mon 24th Feb 2020
Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill

Lord Dholakia Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 24th February 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 99-I Marshalled list for Committee - (21 Feb 2020)
Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and I support what he has said. Having worked in the criminal justice system as a volunteer and having talked to many professionals involved in the system, it is obvious that there is no such thing as total security and safety for all our citizens. It is for this reason that we have to be very careful: great care must be taken to ensure that in ratcheting up the release mechanism, this legislation is not counterproductive to the objective of reducing terrorist activities in our country.

The atrocities perpetrated by terrorists outside Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham High Road brought home to all of us the need for continual vigilance against the terrorism threat. As the House knows, both the perpetrators had recently been released automatically from determinate sentences after serving half the sentence in custody. In the face of these events, I accept the Government’s argument that speed is necessary in legislating to prevent the further automatic release of similar offenders in the very near future. I also accept the argument that offenders of this type should be required to undergo a risk assessment by the Parole Board before they can be released.

I was privileged to serve some years ago on the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, which reviewed the parole system. The parole system is an effective way of dealing with offenders in the criminal justice system. At times in the recent past, the board has been subject to misplaced and ill-informed criticism in some quarters. It is therefore gratifying that its expertise in assessing risk and safeguarding the public has been recognised on all sides during the passage of this legislation. The proportion of offenders of all types who are released by the Parole Board and who commit a further serious offence is less than 1%. In any system based on human judgment, it would be difficult to improve on that record.

When the board is considering the release of offenders convicted of terrorist offences, additional measures are in place to ensure that these cases are considered by members with expertise and training in terrorist matters. There is no doubt that the public will be better protected if the release of such offenders is subject to prior consideration by the Parole Board. I therefore support the Bill’s replacing automatic release in these cases with release at the discretion of the Parole Board. However, I have a number of caveats, which are important if we are to get the right balance and guard against the risk that rushed legislation may turn out to be flawed legislation.

The first caveat relates to the additional time that some offenders will serve if the Parole Board concludes that it is not safe to release them. These offenders are serving determinate sentences, so they will be released at some time in the future. It is therefore important that while they are in custody, we deploy the most effective measures possible to counter and change their mistaken beliefs. This means countering them through both offending behaviour programmes focused on terrorism, and through chaplaincy-based programmes seeking to produce a more appropriate understanding of the faith and its requirements for peaceful behaviour towards others. We should keep the effectiveness of deradicalisation programmes under continuous review to ensure that they are designed and delivered to have the maximum impact in challenging and changing people’s pro-terrorist beliefs. I welcome the establishment of the new counterterrorism programmes and interventions centre within Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. I urge the Government to review, publish and act in the near future on information and research on the most effective approaches to radicalisation.

My second caveat relates to the change in the minimum term which offenders serving sentences for terrorism-related offences must serve before they are considered for release. I have already expressed my support for making the release of these offenders dependent on a Parole Board assessment of risk. However, under the Bill, even offenders who have been deradicalised and rehabilitated and whom the Parole Board judges safe to be released will not be released at the halfway point in their sentence and will have to wait until two-thirds of the sentence has elapsed. It is difficult to see how this is supposed to increase public safety. If Parliament decides that it wants this category of offender to serve longer in prison for punishment or deterrence reasons, for example, that is surely a decision to be taken with full discussion and debate in the normal course of a future Bill’s passage through Parliament. It is difficult to see the justification for making this change in a Bill which is being rushed through all its stages in a couple of days on the grounds that public safety requires it.

I accept that an emergency justifies emergency legislation to require a Parole Board assessment before release, but it is difficult to see a similar justification for changing the release eligibility point for offenders serving existing sentences who would receive a favourable risk assessment by the board. Jonathan Hall, QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, has made this point in his note on the legislation:

“unless there is a clear justification for retroactively changing the earliest release date for this set of prisoners, it sets an uncomfortable precedent for retroactive alterations to the release dates for other offenders who are currently serving sentences of imprisonment. In summary, whilst consideration by the Parole Board of all terrorist offenders prior to release is sensible and to be welcomed, it is unclear to me why this consideration needs to be delayed until two thirds of the sentences of prisoners—who would otherwise have been released after one half—have elapsed”.

My third caveat is that if an offender is not released by the Parole Board at any point before the end of his sentence, he will be released with no requirement for compulsory supervision by the Probation Service and with no licence conditions. Perhaps the Minister can explain the Government’s position.

My final caveat is that it behoves us to ensure that any legislation which is being pushed through the House in haste must be subject to a formal independent review in the near future.

In conclusion, I am willing to support the position taken by my noble friend Lord Marks because I accept the need to ensure that prisoners serving sentences for terrorism-related offences are released only if the Parole Board assesses it is safe to do so. The Government and Parliament must continue to take responsibility for ensuring that the legislation is closely monitored in practice and that prompt action is taken to remedy any defects or injustices identified in the course of its implementation.