Convicted terrorists should be given reduced sentences in return for their cooperation with police investigations. This is just one of the recommendations made by Lord Carlile, the government’s Independent Reviewer of anti-terrorist laws, in his annual report delivered yesterday.
Convicted terrorists should be given reduced sentences in return for their cooperation with police investigations. This is just one of the recommendations made by Lord Carlile, the government’s Independent Reviewer of anti-terrorist laws, in his annual report delivered yesterday. Lord Carlile’s logic is sound. One of the key challenges for British courts handling terrorism cases is the fact that some forms of evidence, for instance wire taps, are not admissible in court. Creating terrorism ‘super grasses’ could be an imaginative way around evidentiary impasses.
As Lord Carlile observes, some defendants have shown they might potentially be willing to take part:
“Defendants in UK terrorism trials continue to show a willingness to plead guilty in the face of a solid prosecution case and a realistic approach to pleas by prosecutors and judges.”
Of course, cooperation will not come without a price. That price is agreeing to substantially reduce sentences for some defendants who provide information useful for preventing and detecting terrorism.
Cutting jail terms for terrorism convicts will not be easy to sell to the British public. But, in some cases, it might be the right thing to do. As Lord Carlile says:
“The prevention and detection of terrorism offences are more important than the length of prison sentences, though it is right that terrorists should expect very long sentences especially if they have denied what has been proved against them.”
It is also worth keeping in mind that, at present, British jails are doing nothing to encourage individuals incarcerated for terrorism offences to abandon their Salafi-Jihadist ideology. Nor are they preventing convicted terrorists from spreading that ideology to other prisoners.
It is no coincidence that, as a report by my colleague James Brandon showed last year, no fewer than five convicted terrorists originally adopted extreme interpretations of Islam during their time in a British prison. Four of them were converts. As Ken Clarke said recently, longer prison sentences cannot be the sum total of our response to crime. Instead, we must rehabilitate existing terrorists by encouraging them to abandon their ideology.
Indeed, rehabilitation is second in importance only to getting the information needed to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks. Locking terrorists up and throwing away the key might sound good to tabloid news editors and right-wing pundits, but it does little to keep our country safe in the long run.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.