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Terrorism Offences: Prosecution

Volume 631: debated on Thursday 16 November 2017

1. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve the prosecution of terrorism offences. (901865)

4. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to improve the prosecution of terrorism offences. (901869)

The last financial year saw the highest number of terrorism-related arrests in any year since data collection began, and a 55% increase in trials from the previous year. The conviction rate in terrorism prosecutions remained at 86%. The team of specialist prosecutors within the Crown Prosecution Service counter-terrorism division has doubled in size and their skills have been enhanced through training and sharing best practice with partners.

Disclosure to the defence in terrorism trials, as in any other trials, of material that might be of assistance to the defence or that might undermine the prosecution is the touchstone of a fair trial. Yet, notwithstanding my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General’s guidelines, there are concerns about the inconsistent application of those requirements. What more can be done to ensure that this vital task is properly discharged?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has considerable experience in prosecuting cases. He is right that disclosure is a huge challenge, and becoming an ever greater one, because of the volume of material that arises, particularly in terrorism cases. We need to make sure we understand fully how we deal with a large quantity particularly of electronic material and sift it effectively. Then we need to make sure that all those involved in the disclosure process—both police officers and prosecutors—understand their responsibilities fully.

This is a matter of considerable public concern. He will know that many of the offences related to what is happening in Syria are offences of preparing to commit acts of terrorism. Over the 10 years from 2006 to 2016, 90 offenders were charged with these offences, 81 of whom received immediate custodial sentences at an average of eight years and five months’ imprisonment.

Bearing in mind that there was a 30% drop between June 2016 and June 2017 in convictions for terrorism-related offences, will the Minister outline how he has instructed the CPS to improve the conviction-arrest ratio?

Across the United Kingdom, the volume of cases and convictions is going up all the time. It is important that we recognise that the volume of cases reflects a genuine problem—a problem not just of terrorist acts, but of those who encourage or glorify terrorism. We must make sure the law keeps pace with that in terms of substantive offences and the sentencing regime.

Following on from that answer, has the Attorney General seen the content published online yesterday by the Leave.EU campaign, in which a number of his hon. and right hon. colleagues were denounced as traitors and as a cancer, simply because they disagreed with the views held by the billionaire owner of that company? Will the Government consider amending legislation so that such clear incitements to hatred can be prosecuted through the criminal courts?

I agree that incitement to hatred is reprehensible, from wherever it comes and whatever subject it is based on, and it is important that the criminal law is available to deal with that conduct. The hon. Gentleman is right too—he has heard me say this before—that conduct online should be treated no less seriously than conduct offline. No one should imagine that they are immune from the criminal law if what they are doing is online instead of in what we might call the real world.