The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill would provide for changes in the sentencing, release and monitoring of terrorism offenders, including:
- introducing a new serious terrorism sentence;
- removing the possibility of release at the two-thirds point of a custodial sentence for certain categories of terrorism offenders, and ensuring those serving a serious terrorism sentence cannot be released until the end of the custodial part of their sentence;
- increasing the maximum sentence available for certain terrorism-related offences;
- enabling a court to deem that any non-terrorist offence that carries a maximum sentence of over two years can be considered to have a terrorist connection and can receive a more severe penalty as a result, amongst other measures;
- expanding the list of offences that can result in an extended sentence and increasing the maximum extension period that can be given as part of an extended sentence for certain terrorist offenders;
- expanding the list of offences that can result in a ‘sentence for offenders of particular concern’ (SOPCs). SOPCs are given to those whose offences were not serious or dangerous enough for the court to impose a life sentence or extended determinate sentence, but yet whom the Government argues should be recipients of a punishment that is more severe than a standard sentence. The bill would also create new sentences, the equivalent of a SOPC, for Scotland and Northern Ireland and for under 18s UK wide; and
- providing for polygraph testing of certain terrorist offenders when released on licence.
In addition, the bill would change existing terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs). These would change through lowering the standard of proof required, through expanding the range of conditions available to include polygraph and drug testing, and by removing the two-year time limit on TPIMs. It would also enable the police to apply for serious crime prevention orders (SCPOs) in terrorism cases. In addition, it would remove the statutory deadline for conducting an independent review of the Prevent strategy.
The bill received cross-party support in the House of Commons. However, MPs raised concerns about matters including: the new serious terrorism sentences for adults aged 18 to 21; restricted eligibility of release on licence for terrorist prisoners in Northern Ireland; effectiveness of strategies to deal with lone terrorists; use of polygraph testing; and changes to TPIMs such as the lowering of the standard of proof. No opposition amendments were made to the bill during its passage through the House of Commons. Minor and technical government amendments were agreed without votes at both committee and report stage.