UK

Terrorism definition 'should be narrower'

  • 22 July 2014
  • From the section UK
Armed police officers Image copyright Getty Images

The senior lawyer who reviews the government's terrorism legislation is to call for the definition of terrorism to be narrowed.

In his annual report, David Anderson QC is focusing on crimes which he says should no longer be classed as terrorist offences.

Journalists and bloggers should not be convicted under terror laws, he said.

The Home Office said its counter-terrorism laws were "effective, proportionate and fair".

Mr Anderson also told the BBC that the current definition "has begun to catch people it never really intended to catch".

Those found guilty of hate crimes can also be currently convicted under terror laws.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Anderson said people who should never be caught by these laws "just get worried" that they might be.

"That would have the effect of restricting the way they go about their business."

Mr Anderson said journalists and bloggers can currently be considered terrorists if they are seeking to influence the government and if their words endanger life or create a serious risk to public health or safety.

"Foolish or dangerous journalism is one thing, terrorism is another. The problem there is the way the bar is set.

"It's enough that you're trying to influence the government for political reasons. In most other countries you need to have to intimidate or coerce the government before you can be a terrorist."

Miranda detention

Mr Anderson was asked about the case of David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of reporter Glenn Greenwald who has written articles about state surveillance based on leaked documents.

Mr Miranda was in transit from Germany to Brazil when he was stopped at the airport, detained, questioned and searched by police.

He was carrying computer files for Mr Greenwald at the time and had items, including his laptop, mobile phone, memory cards and DVDs, taken from him. The detention, under anti-terrorism laws, was later deemed lawful by the High Court.

Mr Anderson said in that case, police believed Mr Miranda was carrying a large number of stolen secret documents and that he accepted police ought to be able to stop an individual and detain them in those circumstances.

"What I think is more difficult to defend is the use of anti-terrorism laws for that purpose.

"One might be thinking of official secrets, of espionage, of theft, but it's a bit of a stretch to see somebody like that as a potential terrorist."

Hate crimes

Mr Anderson also said there was a "simple fix" for the issue, which is to remove the word "influence" in the terrorism definition and require that terrorists must aim to "intimidate or coerce or to compel".

"Parliament needs to revisit [the anti-terrorism legislation] not only for this reason. Another problem with the law is that it fails to distinguish, in all respects, between hate crime and terrorism.

"So you could take someone who is no harm to anyone other than his immediate victim - a man who pipe bombs his neighbour's wall, or a student who threatens a teacher on a fascist website.

"They're unpleasant and serious crimes, but it's a bit of a stretch to see them as terrorism."

A Home Office spokesman said: "Terrorism remains the greatest threat to the UK's national security and protecting the public is our primary duty. We believe our counter-terrorism laws are effective, proportionate and fair but we are not complacent.

"We welcome David Anderson QC's fourth annual report, which demonstrates the importance of independent and detailed analysis into how this legislation operates in practice. We will consider his recommendations in detail and will respond in due course."

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