The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Mrs Anne Main, † Joan Ryan
† Bowie, Andrew (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)
† Chapman, Douglas (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)
† Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)
† Dakin, Nic (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Doughty, Stephen (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op)
† Foster, Kevin (Torbay) (Con)
† Hall, Luke (Thornbury and Yate) (Con)
† Hoare, Simon (North Dorset) (Con)
† Huq, Dr Rupa (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
† Khan, Afzal (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
† Lopez, Julia (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con)
† Maclean, Rachel (Redditch) (Con)
† Maynard, Paul (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
† Newlands, Gavin (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)
† Smith, Eleanor (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)
† Thomas-Symonds, Nick (Torfaen) (Lab)
† Wallace, Mr Ben (Minister for Security and Economic Crime)
† Warman, Matt (Boston and Skegness) (Con)
Nehal Bradley-Depani, David Weir, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, Metropolitan Police
Gregor McGill, Director of Legal Services, Crown Prosecution Service
Richard Atkinson, Chair of the Criminal Law Committee, The Law Society
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 26 June 2018
[Joan Ryan in the Chair]
Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill
Before we begin, let me say that you are welcome to remove jackets or ties—I would call it a day at that—because it is very hot. I have just a few preliminary points. Please make sure that your electronic devices are switched off. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings—I have been asked to say that because people keep walking in with coffee cups and so on.
We will consider the programme motion on the amendment paper and then take the motion enabling the reporting of written evidence for publication, before taking a motion to enable us to deliberate in private. We will then talk about the order in which Members may wish to kick off and look at the questions provided—you can of course add in any of your own.
I call the Minister to move the programme motion, which was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday.
I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 26 June) meet—
(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 26 June;
(b) at 11.30 am on Thursday 28 June;
(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 3 July;
(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 5 July;
(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 10 July;
(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 12 July;
(g) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 17 July;
(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:
Date Time Witness Tuesday 26 June Until no later than 10.55 am Metropolitan Police; Crown Prosecution Service Tuesday 26 June Until no later than 11.25 am The Law Society Tuesday 26 June Until no later than 2.45 pm Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Tuesday 26 June Until no later than 3.15 pm The Law Society of Scotland Tuesday 26 June Until no later than 3.45 pm Liberty; Criminal Bar Association
Tuesday 26 June
Until no later than 10.55 am
Metropolitan Police; Crown Prosecution Service
Tuesday 26 June
Until no later than 11.25 am
The Law Society
Tuesday 26 June
Until no later than 2.45 pm
Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
Tuesday 26 June
Until no later than 3.15 pm
The Law Society of Scotland
Tuesday 26 June
Until no later than 3.45 pm
Liberty; Criminal Bar Association
(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 11; Schedule 1; Clauses 12 to 17; Schedule 2; Clauses 18 to 20; Schedule 3; Clause 21; Schedule 4; Clauses 22 to 26; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 17 July.
I welcome the consensus on Second Reading about the principles of the Bill. No doubt, we will all explore the details of what goes in it. At our meeting yesterday we came to an accommodation on timings and witnesses. For the record, we should recognise that a number of people we asked to be witnesses either chose not to, or were unable to, come. I do not think that is a reflection on the Bill, but it is why we do not have the full sheet of witnesses put forward by all parties to begin with. I am confident, however, that we have a spread of critics, supporters and objective commentators. Therefore, without holding up the Committee any more, I ask it to agree to the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mr Wallace.)
Copies of the written evidence the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room.
That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Mr Wallace.)
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witnesses
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu and Gregor McGill gave evidence.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I was not, but I am very pleased to be able to make a statement. My current role as assistant commissioner counter-terrorism policing means that I co-ordinate the network in the UK of nine counter-terrorism units that deliver counter-terrorism policing on behalf of the 43 chief constables. This is quite a responsibility, not least because last year I was senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, responsible for the investigations and for the delivery of Prevent on behalf of policing.
If you boiled my job description down into one simple fact, it is to stop terrorist acts on our soil, along with my big partner, MI5. On my watch, 36 people died and many hundreds were injured. I want the Committee to know that I think about that every day. The reason that I took this job, that I am sitting here giving evidence on, is because I also think about having to stop that every day. Part of that is something that we call the operational improvement review. I led a strategic board along with MI5 that has led to over 100 recommendations, which are all being implemented as we speak. Part of that was also our work with Government along the lines of what legislation might be required, and I see considerable value in the measures set out in the Bill to combat the change in threat that we have experienced post-2017.The nature and scale of the terrorist and hostile state actor threat to this country has evolved and changed. The simplicity and volatility of terrorism often requires us to intervene much earlier to protect the public. Offences previously considered periphery or minor are now seen as indicative of a volatile and unpredictable actor.
As we know, terrorism legislation is nearly two decades old. In the intervening years, there have been significant changes in technology. The reality of the modern world is that technological developments form part of people’s lives and interactions, so legislation should reflect how people live in the modern world. While counter-terrorism policing can describe the operational challenges we face—and they are great, not just from the change and threat of technology—the appropriateness and specifics of each power are obviously a matter for Parliament to decide.
I have just got back from Australia, where I spoke to all my counterparts who run counter-terrorism in the “Five Eyes” countries. I would say that the great strength of counter-terrorism in this country is that we have the most remarkable connection between the UK intelligence community, policing, Government and, I am pleased to say, the general public, because of the UK policing model, which is envied throughout the world.
We must remember that 2017 was horrific. We have seen a shift, not a spike, in the threat. We are probably about 30% up in terms of our investigation workload, but the strength of that model will see us through, along with some additional measures from the operational improvement review and the legislative changes that I believe are required.
Gregor McGill: I do not intend to say too much more than my colleague, but I will reflect on something that Mr Basu said—that the legislation is now some two decades old. There have been significant changes in technology, society and the threat to the UK. In the CPS we feel that the legislation should reflect those changes.
I will put my cards on the table straightaway: we support this legislation. In the CPS we try to prosecute all terrorist activity where it meets the test in the code for Crown prosecutors. The Bill addresses both the evolving terrorist threat and the changes in technology, and it should provide the CPS with the ability to prosecute offences that previously we would not have been able to prosecute. In the CPS we are having to put more resources into our division that deals with this type of offending, to reflect the spike in activity last year.
“on three or more different occasions the person views by means of the internet a document or record containing information of that kind.”
Does that provide the necessary discretion to prosecutors? Is it clear enough, or would you need greater clarity? Could you comment on that, because the clause has been discussed here?
Gregor McGill: I am aware of the discussion that there has been. Prosecutors require clarity when looking at legislation, because they have to apply that legislation. Approaching this practically—we discussed this beforehand—three seems an appropriate number to us, because we would not want people to be criminalised for inadvertently going on to a website. I have to accept that that could happen. That could be a single occasion. It is a more difficult argument to accept if the person has gone on to it twice, and it is more difficult again if the person has gone on to it three times.
There is of course a statutory defence to the offence as set out, which gives some safeguards. The code for Crown prosecutors has a two-stage test, which is sufficiency of evidence and, if the evidence is satisfied, whether it would be in the public interest to prosecute. There are a number of safeguards in that for us to say that we think the legislation as drafted hits the right balance between protecting society and protecting the rights of a suspect.
“A person commits an offence…if he invites support for a proscribed organisation”.
The new clause in the Bill states:
“A person commits an offence if the person…expresses an opinion or belief that is supportive of a proscribed organisation”.
It then brings in the concept of recklessness. Could both of you give me an example of a type of situation that could not be prosecuted under the previous regime but could be prosecuted under this new regime?
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes, I can certainly give you an example of that. The biggest problem we have in counter-terrorism, without a doubt, which is making this a generational challenge, is radicalisation. I think that is a given, from my position, but I could find a great deal of current support in Government and in social media sentiment to say that the ability to radicalise is a significant issue. I will leave the fine legal point of “reckless” to Greg, but it is a well-established criminal tenet, so I do not see that necessarily as an issue.
I could relate a number of studies. One is of Mohammed Shamsuddin. Many of you will have seen commentary on the Channel 4 documentary “The Jihadis Next Door” last year. On 27 June 2015, Shamsuddin gave a speech. In the context of that speech, it was very clear that he supported Daesh and what they were doing. He did not invite others, which is obviously the current test, so he did not meet a section 12 charge. He shouted anti-kufr rhetoric and said, “Allahu Akbar” in relation to the Kuwait mosque bombing. He said that one should not feel sorry for the British who died in Tunisia or for the kufr killed in Kuwait. He criticised Gay Pride and said that gay people should be thrown from tall buildings. Having spoken on recent shootings in Tunisia, he said, “The spark was lit,” and that the listeners knew the rest.
A second example is Omar Brooks, again in 2015, on 4 July. He gave provocative talks and spoke of jihad and of how Islam was spread by the sword and was not a soft religion about peace. Brooks also mocked a sheikh who had spoken against the killing of Lee Rigby. Again, it was clear, when you look at the full tone of his speech, that he supported the concept and principle of Daesh, but he did not invite others, under the terms of the current legislation, and again it would not have met a section 12 charge.
Now, were either of those two people reckless in that they would have thought that their deeds would have encouraged terrorism? My contention is that they absolutely would. What we have seen in the rise of terrorism—particularly with the malleable, vulnerable people not well equipped to understand the nuances of religion or ideology—is that this kind of radicalisation speech has really worked to increase the threat to the UK.
Gregor McGill: I would adopt that. I think there is a gap in the law at the moment that means that we cannot always prosecute people in the circumstances that Mr Basu has set out. You raised the question of recklessness. Do you want me to deal with the question of recklessness?
Gregor McGill: As you are aware, recklessness is a concept that is well known to the criminal lawyer. It is currently in the terrorism legislation. It is something that investigative colleagues and prosecutors are aware of dealing with. It has been seen to be ECHR-compliant; that is correct.
The legal definition of recklessness is a subjective test now; the courts made that clear in the 2003 case of G. It is about a person who realises that there is an obvious risk in what they are doing and, realising that obvious risk, goes on to do something that brings about that obvious risk happening.
It is a concept that is well known in terrorism legislation and also well known in the wider criminal law. It is used in a number of offences—for instance, arson, child neglect and some assaults. It is not an unknown concept. It is not unknown to prosecutors and judges, who are used to dealing with these difficult situations.
Gregor McGill: I agree with you. Most of the decisions that are made in the criminal law are a balancing exercise. Prosecutors have to balance the rights of a suspect against the rights and protection of the public. The code enables us to do that. That is why we have a public interest test that enables us to ask. Even if the evidence in its purest form makes out the criminal offence, it has never been the case here that, just because you prove an offence, you necessarily should prosecute it. Prosecutors have the discretion not to prosecute, and they exercise that discretion very frequently.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I do not want to be glib about this, but I have worked with Greg for a very long time and I would never get such a case past him anyway, even if I was prepared to put that case. We are far too busy on genuine acts of terrorism to be concerned with such a case. What it might point to is somebody who is in trouble and needs a bit of guidance: that is the Prevent tactic under the Government’s Contest strategy. There are some remarkable people on the front line capable of speaking to people and changing their minds about the path they might be following.
The other thing I would say about this clause is that this, again, is a modern technology phenomenon. The idea of dressing up in regalia that would be abhorrent to—hopefully—all of us here and the vast majority of the public has been well-established. The Public Order Act has established that. People just do not attend public assemblies, marches and demonstrations in the same way that they used to. Why would you need to? A tiny fraction of the population might see that for a fraction of a second, but now you can put it online and publicly display your message.
We would look at all the circumstances in relation to how that was being publicised and what you were trying to achieve by that before we looked at any form of executive action.
Gregor McGill: The answer to that, I think, is that we are dealing with specific offences under section 58, which is about viewing and streaming material. Prosecutors are adept at looking for other offences that would enable you to deal with the criminality, but the essence of prosecution is that you prosecute the most appropriate offence set out by the facts in front of you.
Prosecutors can sometimes shoehorn offending into other offences, but experience tells us that that can result in problems down the line because there can be technical defences to certain clauses that superficially make you think you can prosecute under those offences, although it is more difficult. Prosecutors will always try to prosecute under the most appropriate offence, and the most appropriate offence for this type of material is the section 58 offence under the 2000 Act.
Gregor McGill: Most cases are fact-specific, so it is difficult to talk in general terms. In these particular cases, so much turns on the particular circumstances of each case, the particular evidence in the case and the particular conduct of the person under investigation. It is difficult to speak in generalities. Prosecutors have, of course, tried a number of offences to deal with certain criminality, but generally it is difficult to shoehorn some conduct into offences that were not specifically set out to deal with that type of offending.
Gregor McGill: The CPS prosecutor, in looking at the case, would consider all aspects and look at the particular circumstances and timings of the access. If they were close together, that could tell a story; if they were apart, that could tell a story. We work closely with our investigative colleagues and find out from them exactly what the evidence shows and, if it has been put to the suspect in interview, precisely what they have said about that. But as a prosecutor, you have to look at the evidence in the round and consider all the evidence, including the circumstances in which the contact has happened. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the particular type of contact may tell a particular story.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I did not want to get off clause 3 without making some really important comments about it from the policing perspective, if that is possible, Chair. To answer your question directly, we are very fortunate in this country, with the support of the Government over many decades, to have pretty robust legislation in terms of counter-terrorism.
What we are looking to do—and most of these clauses do it—is close some loopholes, because of the changing nature of the threat and the change in technology. There is very little that was left in the first debates that took place in terms of what would be best to counteract terrorism. One of the major partners that I am looking to involve much more in the counter-terrorism fight is the business sector—and the public sector. We have a Prevent duty that has gone a long way towards getting statutory partners more engaged in the battle, but we do not currently have any licensing, regulation or regime for the business sector to improve its ability to protect its employees, customers and management of events. We do not have that; it is a conversation we are still having.
I think—and you may want to get on to this—that the Australians have a “designated area” offence for people who wish to travel to war zones and fight. Although that would not be retrospective, and therefore would not have great utility in respect of the Syrian conflict, I think it would have utility for the future. If we were dealing with a similar situation in the future, stopping people from going to fight or enabling the prosecution of people fighting in theatre when they return would have great utility to us. Those are probably the two things that I would consider at the moment.
Gregor McGill: The Australians have such a power and they consider it a useful addition to their armament. We do not have a power. As my colleague Mr Basu has said, it would not help us address some of the issues that have happened in the past, but it could help us address some of the issues in the future.
“recklessness is normally applied to actions that are themselves within the realm of criminality…if you hit someone or deceive them then it is absolutely appropriate for a jury to be able to convict you of an offence even if you did not intend the consequences of your actions. The same nexus between action and consequence should not exist for speech offences. Speech does not naturally reside in the realm of criminality. This is why the element of intention should always be attached to speech offences.”
Could both of you comment on that quote from the JCHR report? Can you determine the difference between speech offences and physical acts?
Gregor McGill: I appreciate what you say. Recklessness is not an unknown principle in criminal law. It is right that I should say, as well, that it is a particular principle that has caused criminal law some issues over the years, particularly in the field of whether such recklessness should be subjective—that is, you understand its nature—or objective, in that it is more from an objective test. As the court, the prosecutors and the investigators are used to dealing with the question of recklessness, these issues can be properly managed through the proceedings. The difficulty as well is that that quote, I understand, was from 2006. The world in 2018 is very different from the world in 2006, and Mr Basu will no doubt tell you that the threat facing us now is very different. That is one matter.
This is often portrayed as a thought crime, but I would say it is not that. The clause is seeking to address someone who is actively supporting a proscribed organisation and doing it in circumstances where they are reckless—by saying what they are saying and by giving that support—as to the consequences of what is happening.
I endorse what Mr Basu said. The threat that we are trying to address here is the threat of radicalisation, which is one of the big threats facing us at the moment. That is the purpose of this and that is the purpose of the recklessness clause.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I cannot stress strongly enough the effect that charismatic, radicalising speakers, who profess to support proscribed organisations and encourage violence, are having on a section of our society. Despite the defeat of the caliphate and despite the fact that we have an extreme right-wing threat that is growing, those speakers are still capable of galvanising, mobilising and energising individuals.
If I look at the evidence for that, I would say the proscribed group that is al-Muhajiroun. We had five successful attacks last year, including one extreme right-wing attack. We also had 12 disruptions of international counter-terrorism: Islamist, jihadist plots. If you track back across the past four or five years and look at the pernicious influence of a group such as ALM, it is dramatic. They have a footprint in almost every crime. So to say that radicalisation is the biggest scourge of our time in terms of terrorism is probably an understatement. It is making a significant difference. For me as a police officer, anything that helps me mitigate that threat has got to be a good thing.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I do not actually have any concerns about that at all. We are very adept at looking at the full intelligence picture behind what somebody is doing.
Back to the comments I wanted to make around the section 58 and the streaming offence: that is the way people are living their lives now. It is not about operational security; it is just what they are doing. I am agnostic as to the number of times, but I appreciate prosecutors need some clear guidelines. That streaming is happening and it is happening en masse. At the moment, we are able to charge on one offence, because it was downloaded, but there might be a wealth of intelligence saying that a massive amount of streaming has been done. We then get a short-service sentence on the basis of one download, which does not say what the rounded threat of that individual is. That is very different from someone who has clicked three times on something over a huge length of time.
I would reiterate what Mr McGill said: these are not absolute offences. There are statutory defences and reasonable excuses built into this, all of which would be looked at very clearly before it went through the Crown Prosecution Service and before it went to trial. Then, an independent judge is overlooking that as well. So I am not concerned that it would be a diversion of police resource. I have examples that I can give to the Committee—or I can write to the Committee—that show that people are doing this as a precursor to much more violent offending in the future.
I do not want to be in the position I have been in many times in the last couple of years, looking at somebody who is committing what the courts might see as a minor crime and gets a very short sentence. That is not long-term public protection if they are out at three to six months. I am looking for them to go that next stage when I have got intelligence rather than evidence that they are preparing for that next stage. I want long-term sustained public protection, and that means that we need to be able to prosecute people who are streaming en masse.
Gregor McGill: Can I add two things to that? First, in such cases the police and Crown Prosecution Service work closely together. What often happens is the police will come to seek advice at an early stage and the Crown Prosecution Service will be able to give that advice in such a case. It is very difficult to say how a prosecutor would advise about a case in the abstract. What I could say is, three clicks over 25 years would be a harder case to prosecute than three clicks over a three or four-day period. One of the things a prosecutor has to do when reviewing a case is ask themselves whether they have sufficient evidence to prove a case.
Gregor McGill: The difficulty is, cases can turn so much on their own facts. I cannot say that you could not build a case with three clicks over 25 years; it would depend on what the nature of that was and what the reasons for that were. But ultimately whether there should be such a limitation is a matter for Parliament. Prosecutors would work within that limitation, if that was put in.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I would be nervous about absolute time limits because of our close subjects of interest. Khalid Masood and Salman Abedi are two very good examples from last year. Khalid Masood would have been engaging in looking at some of this material many, many years ago. So where would you put the line?
I have one more question, Chair, but I will pass to my colleague, who wants to ask a follow-up.
As we are in an oral evidence session, I am taking people in the order in which they indicate, which I think is fair. Mr Chapman will have to wait.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: It is the comment I made earlier: it is the greatest threat to this country that people such as Anjem Choudary have been able to speak very persuasively and charismatically for long periods of time. The difficulty in prosecuting him, as Mr McGill will know, was immense over many, many years. If my MI5 colleagues were sitting here today, they would be able to give exact numbers on how many terrorist atrocities al-Muhajiroun—he is a leader of ALM—have a footprint in, not just here in the UK but abroad, and on the number of disruptions we have had where people have been influenced by ALM rhetoric or material.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Many years.
Dozens? I think it was 20 years.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I would not be able to give you the exact number.
Gregor McGill: It was certainly a significant number of years, and I think it was into double figures. I think it was somewhere around 10 years, at least.
Gregor McGill: Precisely so. He was a very charismatic and intelligent man who was very able to stay just the right side of the legislation as it was at the time. That provided a real difficulty for investigative colleagues to gather evidence and for prosecutors to bring a case.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Exactly.
Gregor McGill: It is not the job of a prosecutor to stop people having odious thoughts and opinions. In a democracy, people are entitled to hold whatever opinions they want to. When the expressions of those opinions become criminal and go into what has been called “the radicalisation agenda”, that is where we think there is a lacuna in the law and where we think it needs addressing.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes
Gregor McGill: Yes.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes
Gregor McGill: Yes.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes.
So the principle is already embedded in law around inspiration when it comes to racial hatred, but not when it comes to terrorism?
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes, precisely so.
Gregor McGill: Prosecution is fraught with problems, but none have come out. It is a perfectly workable piece of legislation and another tool in the prosecutor’s armour to be able to deal with this type of behaviour.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes, it is a challenge and it is quite common.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: That is exactly what it is. If you marched down the street with that flag, you would be in a different place.
On clause 3, I am keen to be open to solutions on the three clicks issue. Would you both agree that streaming, again reflecting modernisation, is a major problem and that the law as it sits is not capable of defining the difference between streaming and downloading?
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes.
Gregor McGill: From a prosecutor’s point of view, although these probably would not be exercised, they would be more investigative powers, if you are using an evidence base or intelligence base, you would have to make that intelligence or evidence available.
There are some complications and difficulties with that. There are some legal difficulties with making some intelligence available. There are some operational difficulties in making such material available, which may impact investigative colleagues’ ability to run some of their operations. On that basis, if we had to disclose that, it may limit the powers significantly.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes, I think it would be too general; that is the problem. It would need to be a reasonable suspicion test. If you look at section 1 stop-and-search powers, it would have to be much more directive than that. Certainly, in counter-terrorism and the example you have given, that would not be uncommon. Intelligence is very fragmented; it is very incomplete. We might have very limited material, possibly just on the travel method or a particular flight, and nothing more than that.
To echo Mr McGill’s point about having a suspicion threshold undermining the utility of this particular investigative power, certainly very sensitive sources and methodology could be disclosed. Certainly, the people who were targeted could quickly work out how to bypass our methods. Certainly, it would be open to those people to displace their travel by passing on evidence to a travel companion, who would not be under suspicion. The lack of suspicion in terms of the power is critical to the utility of actually using it.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Do you mean the designated area offence that we discussed earlier?
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I think the Australian approach is the more sensible one from our point of view. If you start introducing any kind of rules and notification procedure, there is bureaucracy and difficulty that would go with that. We know how people react. If you put in any kind of way of stopping somebody travelling, if they succeed and travel that would be a huge propaganda coup. That is not something that we would like to see. There is obviously a huge reputational risk in that happening and then them going on to commit atrocities, because somehow they had passed a notification requirement and travelled under the guise of something else, which has happened in the past. They have arrived and then fought and committed an atrocity. It would look like we had effectively licensed them to do that. We would rather have very clear legislation in the first place that prohibits the travel, and that people were then responsible for doing whatever it is they do and they took that risk, and we were able to prosecute in the future.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I do not have those figures off the top of my head, but I could get those for you and it is substantial. One figure I do have is that we prevented 100 minors from travelling to a theatre of war. The other fact I have is that despite the collapse of the caliphate, we still see people inspired to travel.
Gregor McGill: I adopt everything my colleague has said. I would say, in respect of the Australian experience, is that although it is on the statute book, it is not often used. It is something that, like most offences, has to be—in accordance with the law—it has to be necessary in democratic society but it also has to be proportionate. It is an offence that would be a useful addition to a prosecutor’s armoury, but we would have to be careful how we exercised it because there are ECHR implications, and prosecutors would be alert to that. The Australians are looking at their first case at the moment for dealing with such an individual.
Gregor McGill: That would depend on the particular circumstances of the case and the particular evidence put before the prosecutor. If you went straight to a very criminal—if I can use that word—part of the streaming, that could constitute one. Just a very brief look could constitute one click.
Gregor McGill: That is a very difficult question to answer without seeing the precise evidence. The section 12 support offence is there to deal—sorry to come back to it—with the threat of radicalisation, and the charismatic speakers who stop just short of inviting people to become involved in terrorism but make it clear that they support that activity. That is what this clause is there to deal with.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I do not remember that case, but in the circumstances as you describe them, it would be easy to see why that was a weak case. Mr McGill has said it already, but prosecutors look in the round at whether it passes an evidential threshold and whether it passes a public interest test, long before we get to the point where they advise us that we can charge somebody. So there is a significant period of time in which we would look at the full circumstances of the case. Just on what you have said there, I am not sure that is one that we would have been putting forward under today’s—
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Yes, a decade ago. I just echo what Mr McGill said. There is a difference between a shop worker who clearly has some issues, doing what they were doing, and what we are talking about Anjem Choudary doing.
Gregor McGill: There is a statutory defence, so that would give some safeguards. As I suggested earlier, prosecutors have to apply the code for Crown prosecutors, which means that they have to ask themselves whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction and, if they are satisfied that that test is met, whether it would be in the public interest to prosecute.
In certain circumstances, if a person was suffering from a mental health issue, that could be a reason for not prosecuting. In certain circumstances it could be a reason for prosecuting. A prosecutor has to look at the particular aspects of each case and make a decision based on what the evidence shows, but I think that there are sufficient safeguards in the legislation and the core process.
Of course, all court proceedings are overseen by independent judges. They are very independent and have an overriding duty to ensure that any court proceedings are fair. That is their overriding duty, and they are very active in ensuring, through the management of criminal cases, that criminal proceedings are fair at all stages. I would say that there are sufficient safeguards within the legislation, and in the wider way in which cases are investigated, prosecuted and tried, to ensure that the rights of everyone in the proceedings are protected.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: The spectrum for mental illness is huge. If people do not have the mens rea, they would not be charged. There would be alternative ways of dealing with that individual. If they do have the mens rea, it depends where they are; we have charged people who have got mental illness issues. Having low levels of mental illness does not mean that someone cannot consciously commit an atrocious act. The investigative process as it stands today, and always has, is that you have to be fit to be detained, fit to be interviewed, and fit to be charged. There is a lot of medical advice before it gets to a charging decision and a prosecutorial process in front of an independent judge. Again, there would be court measures around someone’s fitness to plead or stand trial. I think that there are sufficient safeguards.
Just to be clear about who is drawing vulnerable people in, it is not legislation or the investigative process or the Crown Prosecution Service; it is radicalisers, who rely on the fact that some people are vulnerable and need safeguarding. We have measures within the police to try to prevent those radicalisers getting to those people. That is called Prevent, and we do not talk about that great work enough. It is about trying to stop someone being criminalised in the first place. I and my statutory partners have a lot of people working on doing precisely that—stopping people getting drawn into this and becoming subject to any of the legislation in the first place.
“on three or more different occasions the person views by means of the internet a document or record containing information of that kind.”
That is quite clear—three clicks and you’re out—but how do you define views? What is the definition of views? Is it a five-second YouTube advert or the like? Is it 10 minutes? Is it an hour? What is the definition of views when it comes to that?
Gregor McGill: I do not think it is defined in the legislation, is it?
Gregor McGill: That is the point I would make. The analogy I always draw is with things such as indecent images of children. When we are prosecuting cases like that, if someone clicks on a website with indecent images of children once, they might think, “I didn’t want that. I’ll click off.” I would say that no prosecutor would say that the code for Crown prosecutors was met in those circumstances. If you had one click and you were on there for a considerable period of time, that might be different. If you had one very short click, but then you went back and looked again, and then you went back and looked again, that is beginning to show a pattern of behaviour.
Gregor McGill: No, and those are the factors that a prosecutor would take into consideration in asking themselves whether the evidential test was met and, even if it was in those circumstances, whether it would be in the public interest to prosecute.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I am on public record as saying that I think Prevent is the most important pillar in the Government’s strategy. What we are facing is a generational challenge. If I think about minors who are being influenced in all the kinds of ways that we have discussed here today, I talk about returning families, mothers and children who have been exposed to atrocities in war zones, who I have to treat as a potential threat as well as a potential safeguarding issue. I have talked about the fact that we see people still actively inspired and encouraged to travel to a war zone where the caliphate does not exist. There are still people being influenced by that.
I think of a case that I investigated less than 18 months ago, which has come to trial, of four young people who were trying to travel to Syria to fight. That links to the section 58 offence, because two of them downloaded material and therefore were chargeable with a section 58 offence. For two of them, there was no evidence under the current legislation to be allowed to interdict them at that time. They were not susceptible to Prevent, which is a voluntary scheme to help people who want to help themselves. That is the difficulty.
Where the Government have brought in desist and deradicalisation programmes that are mandatory for convicted offenders, at least that gives us a further opportunity to try to safeguard. That is another important aspect or evolution of where Prevent has been. But as I have just said, the number of people in policing and in our statutory partners, post the 2015 legislation, that made statutory partners aware of their responsibilities and gave them a legal duty to effectively deal with anyone they suspected was being drawn into terrorism, has made a significant difference. That is not least because the education sector, where you will be well aware that we had huge problems convincing people that safeguarding and not prosecution was our aim, is now the biggest referrer into Prevent—very recently, I think, it was 1% more than policing itself.
There has been a sea change. What we tried to talk to people about is that you do not need to teach teachers about safeguarding. It is absolutely engrained in their character as something that needs to happen. This was no different from a child being abused or neglected; it was exactly the same principle. We believe that is working effectively and will continue to work in the future. Probably the most important thing is that people are resourced and equipped to handle what is going to be an increasing case load, particularly if we see more people returning from theatres of war.
What we described here is a radicalisation process that is still ongoing. My colleagues in the Home Office will see social media and sentiment showing that there is still a growth of extremism in this country. You made the point about making people resilient and able to counter that narrative or to combat an ideology—a good academic we use talks about it being like fast-food ideology. Kids are being exposed to one or two lines of rhetoric from the Koran that mean nothing in isolation. The issue is in trying to teach people what that actually means, or trying to teach a young white lad in north-east England who has been told that white supremacy is the way and who understands nothing about the history of what that actually means. It is important to try to increase their resilience, and we do a lot of that type of work as well.
I do not think we talk enough about that kind of work. We do not hear from enough people doing that kind of work and some of the dramatic effects that they have had in changing people’s ideology, which has meant that those people do not become criminals—they become useful members of society, and are advocates for a better way of life.
I go back to the Peel principles: my job is to prevent crime, not just to detect it. Save life and prevent crime—those are my two primary duties, and the Prevent strategy is precisely about that. Stop criminalising people and be effective, but I cannot do that myself. Those with the skills to do that are in education, health and social services. One of our greatest challenges is probably to properly equip them to do the work that we signpost to them.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: I do not think the legislation is the issue. I think the equipping, expertise and resourcing are different problems, probably for the next spending review. Unless you can point to a place in the legislation where you think that more law is required, I am not sure that it is about more laws. It is about dealing with the issue; it is more about capacity.
Gregor McGill: As a prosecutor, I would say we are involved in Prevent but not to the same degree. We sit firmly within the pursuit base, if I can put it that way. The aim of any prosecutor is to keep people out of the criminal justice system as much as possible; if people enter the criminal justice system, we have all failed to a certain extent. Going back to what was said at the beginning, the threat is from radicalisation. Anything we can do to prevent that radicalisation is to be supported. I think this legislation will give us the tools to help us do that. Is there more we can do? Yes. But I agree with Mr Basu: is it this legislation? No, it is much wider than that but this legislation will help, in my view.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: It has the potential to do that, yes. I think most social media providers have stepped up to their corporate social responsibility, particularly post-2017. They get it—they get that there is a serious issue with social media. I have described it publicly as the internet probably being humankind’s most important invention but also a great scourge of our time. It is not policeable as it currently exists; I certainly could not do it. The only way it can be done is if these companies take responsibility for what they are hosting on their platforms. We are seeing a real movement towards that, and the Government have helped dramatically in terms of being a convening power: getting the big chiefs round the table.
It has taken eight years for my counter-terrorism and internet referral unit to encourage social media providers to take down 300,000 pieces of extreme terrorist material: stuff that we think hits the threshold. During the first quarter of 2018, two of the major CSPs managed to take down just short of 4 million. When the impetus, drive and understanding are there and they know what they are looking for and what crosses the criminal threshold and undermines all their own policies, they can do this. That is incredibly important. That is over and above anything in this legislation.
Gregor McGill: In legal terms, freedom of expression is not an absolute right, but a qualified one. It is important to remember that. It can be interfered with, if I can put it that way, if that is in accordance with the law—and this legislation would provide that; if that is necessary in a democratic society; and if it is proportionate. Like so much in the criminal justice system, we try to strike that right balance, between the rights of individuals to have that freedom of expression and the rights of other citizens to live in peace, security and safety.
Gregor McGill: On the three clicks, how a prosecutor would have to approach it is to look at the case in the round and see what the nature of the clicks was—look at the issue in totality. How long someone looked and how close together—you have to build up an evidential picture and ask yourself, as a prosecutor, whether that provides you with a realistic prospect of a conviction.
In some cases, it may start off with a very short click, but the next click may be longer and the click after that may be longer. That enables a prosecutor to build up a story and a narrative and ask those questions. A prosecutor has to look at that and ask whether that evidence provides them with a realistic prospect of conviction. But they have to ask themselves a wider question: would the public interest require a prosecution in this case? That would depend very much on the circumstances of the case.
In respect of the French legislation, I am afraid I do not know much about that; I struggle enough with English law without trying to understand French law. However, I could find out about that and write to the Committee, if that would help.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Every senior investigating officer has a responsibility to consider a Prevent line of inquiry while they are looking at the investigative lines of inquiry for their case. There are two very good examples of that. I mentioned the one about the four youngsters who wanted to travel. In that case, Prevent initiatives were put around certain of those vulnerable youngsters, because we did not want to criminalise them.
A very famous case that has just been convicted is that of Safaa Boular. Safaa Boular was a 16 year-old girl when she was groomed online by a 33 year-old from Syria. She was considered to be a very vulnerable youngster in need of some kind of Prevent intervention. That Prevent intervention failed: bear in mind that it is a voluntary programme; if you do not want to engage with it, that is a significant issue. We have people who go on to plan or even commit terrorist atrocities who have been subject to Prevent intervention. In terms of the efficacy, it is a very difficult thing to do, but we aim towards it.
I was taken by what Mr McGill said; it is a failure when we criminalise people and have to prosecute them. As I said, the primary duty of my job is to save lives and prevent crime—not detect it. I am a very experienced murder investigator, but I never wanted to be a murder investigator as a counter-terrorism officer.
If someone is grooming, for want of a better word, someone vulnerable, and they send them an email link without any explanation, would the person being targeted be able to prove—as the onus is on them to do—that their excuse was reasonable, that the link was sent by someone they trusted and that it was a case of misplaced trust? How would that pan out in practice?
Gregor McGill: It is quite difficult, and it requires close liaison between prosecutors and investigators to work out exactly what the evidence is in the case. It is true that if someone is groomed and specifically targeted, that can be a powerful reason for not prosecuting, because we have to understand that people are targeted because they are vulnerable.
There comes a stage sometimes, however, when we have to focus on what people have done, rather than why they have done it—if I can put it that way. It is that balance, which goes back to what I said before and what Mr Basu just said. Wherever we can, we try to keep people out of the criminal justice system. Investigators and prosecutors will do everything they can, but in certain circumstances the code means that if the evidence is there, and it is a serious matter, the public expect a prosecution.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: That is a matter for the Government and the way the Bill is drafted, but it would be a laudable aim.
I will take that as a yes.
Gregor McGill: From a Crown Prosecution Service perspective, the Bill is a proportionate response to the threat we face.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: We have discussed the designated area offence and, briefly, the Protect duty. I caveat that by saying I understand how difficult a Protect duty would be. Some 80% of British businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises and I know it would be difficult. I do not want to impose a financial cost on people; I just want them to understand the seriousness with which we need their help. I am not sure that legislation is the right vehicle for that, but it is something we have debated.
The last point I have not mentioned is that we have a continual issue with people marching and waving flags—the whole display issue—and we do not have a power of seizure of flags, which is part of the evidential chain for a successful prosecution. That is a minor point. Otherwise, it is a well-balanced set of proposals.
Gregor McGill: That is quite a wide question. I do not have specific examples of that, although we could look for them. What we do know is that successful investigations and prosecutions use a number of investigative tools and evidence from different places. The more powers that investigators and prosecutors have to exercise those safeguards, the stronger the prosecutions and better the results. An example of where we have used biometric data for that? Off the top of my head, I do not know in these circumstances.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: The most famous example in recent years was Sardar, a cab driver from Wembley, in 2014. The US shared his biometrics with us. He had been overseas and become a terrorist. The reason we were able to match was that in 2007 he was subject to a schedule 7 stop and his biometrics were taken. So he was not convicted of anything. His biometrics were taken and retained for seven years. He was clearly suspected of travelling for a purpose, but not enough to cross the threshold. He travelled and was later convicted of murder.
Gregor McGill: We can certainly look for those examples and write to the Committee.
“to enter premises specified in the warrant for the purpose of assessing the risks posed by the person to whom the warrant relates;”
Could you expand on that? Mr Basu, what exactly do you think is meant by “assessing the risks”? What practically would be likely in a situation like that?
Assistant Commissioner Basu: This is based around lifetime offender management of terrorism. The parallel is obviously registered sex offenders, where this power exists. You are looking for anything that looks as though they have re-engaged or are breaching their notification requirements, if they are on notification. It is something that allows us to assess the ongoing risk of their re-engaging with terrorism. You might find material if you were to do such a warrant. You might find a flag being displayed. You might find material that is of use to a terrorist. That is the purpose of it.
Assistant Commissioner Basu: Certainly. You can listen to me or you can listen to Andrew Parker from MI5, who has spent 35 years in terrorism and says he has never seen anything like it. If I wanted to describe the threat, that is where I would start. It is definitely a shift, not a spike. We saw the start of problems that were predictable when the military push went into Mosul and Raqqa at the beginning of 2017.
Before Khalid Masood hit Westminster Bridge on 22 March, the number of leads from international partners, covert means and here in the UK were starting to increase in January. What we reached, post Khalid Masood’s attack, was probably a lowering of the bar for terrorism in this country, where people thought that perhaps we were not as hostile to terrorism as we could be and, therefore, they were capable of committing attacks. The attacks that followed were not connected in any way, shape or form, but they say something about the inspiration and the radicalisation that we have discussed.
That has left us with a trebling of our leads; on a monthly basis we deal with three times the number of investigative leads that might later work themselves through into a priority investigation against terrorism. There is more attack planning here in the UK, which is why section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is so important. Holding information is often a precursor for people seeking to do a much more serious offence down the line. We are seeing something in the region of about a 30% increase in case load.
We talk about somewhere between about 500 and 600 cases. Taking the cases that are not police and MI5-led and including the ones that are led by police alone, it is more like 650. We have talked openly about the fact that 3,000 subjects are of acute interest to us, which means 3,000 open cases of individuals who are considered a national security threat. We talk about the growing pool of those we have looked at and are no longer considered a national security threat, but who may re-engage in the future, as being 20,000.
We also have a number of issues, as we have discussed, of people who have been exposed to this in countries overseas. Now that the caliphate has collapsed, what will happen to those people? Will they return to their countries of origin? We still have a substantial number of people who could return against whom we do not have prosecutable case.
Within our communities, we continue to see a rise in extremism. Most disturbingly, along with the jihadist Islamist threat that we see in international counter-terrorism, we now see the extreme right wing growing as well. Those probably feed off of each other, which is why this becomes a whole-society problem, because we are seeing both sides of the coin. The previous Home Secretary proscribed National Action. We have done a great deal of work against National Action.
The most disturbing thing about the extreme right-wing threat, in terms of how it transfigured as National Action, is that it shows very similar signs to what was discussed about al-Muhajiroun—ALM—many years ago. It probably took years to get on top of ALM, and we did not want to make that same mistake with the extreme right-wing threat. Counting that together with the scale of the pace, our ability to counter that level of threat will be severely challenged over the next couple of years. This legislation provides me with some help on that.
If there are no further questions from Members, I thank the assistant commissioner and Mr McGill for giving evidence this morning and for their time. It has been most helpful to the Committee. Thank you very much. We will now move on to our next panel.
Examination of Witness
Richard Atkinson gave evidence.
Richard Atkinson: Good morning. I am Richard Atkinson and I am co-chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee. I am a defence practitioner specialising in criminal law.
“a detainee who wishes to exercise the right”
may in some circumstances do so
“only in the sight and hearing of a qualified officer.”
Is it a concern that there is no right under the Bill to consult a lawyer in private?
Richard Atkinson: Yes, a very great concern. It fundamentally undermines what I would consider to be a cornerstone of our justice system—legal professional privilege. As you may know, legal professional privilege is a right that belongs to the client, not to the lawyer, and it is a right to consult with their lawyer and have the contents of those discussions, where they are a matter of advice, privileged and not to be disclosed to anyone. Clearly, if someone is listening to that conversation who is not advising them, that conversation is no longer privileged. Therefore, that risks undermining the whole concept we have of privilege.
I understand that the motivation for this is the concern that there may be advisers—lawyers—who may be susceptible to being used, if I can put it that way, by manipulative suspects to achieve the goals being sought to be prohibited—communication with remaining suspects, interfering with evidence or furthering criminal activity. However, that is not unknown to our current justice provisions. Powers are already in place to deal with such situations that do not require the breach of legal professional privilege.
For example, in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code H, which deals with counterterrorism cases, where there is concern about an individual lawyer there is provision for the suspect to have the consultation with that lawyer delayed but to be offered the services of another lawyer in the meantime. The suspect is therefore not devoid of legal advice. That advice is in private and maintains privilege but meets the concerns, if there are specific concerns, in relation to that particular legal adviser. So we have in place a situation where we can address the concern but maintain the fundamental principle of legal professional privilege. The Bill goes much further than that and is a step that I feel is very detrimental to our system, and of course to our reputation.
Richard Atkinson: Absolutely. Again, code H allows exactly for that. If there are specific concerns about a lawyer, the duty lawyer or solicitor can be called to come and advise. That maintains privilege and maintains the defendant’s access to advice at that point.
Richard Atkinson: Not necessarily, because although there is a provision to limit its use, it is not absolute, is it? There are three exceptions where it can be used.
Richard Atkinson: If I am right, the three are proceedings for an offence under schedule 7(18) of the Terrorism Act 2000; on a prosecution for perjury; and on a prosecution for another offence where, in giving evidence, the defendant makes a statement inconsistent with the answer or information provided by him or her in response to the schedule 7 examination.
Richard Atkinson: They will.
Richard Atkinson: No. I think, though, there are three almost categories of questioning recognised in the legislation. You have screening, examination and detention. What you are talking about is much more akin to screening, and no one is suggesting that those sorts of questions require someone to be offered legal advice. Having gone past the screening exercise and moving into the position of examination, where someone can be held for up to an hour, they are now someone of interest. Their status has moved on from simply that person who walks through passport control.
Richard Atkinson: No.
Richard Atkinson: I am afraid I do not know the answer to that.
Richard Atkinson: Sorry, I think you are conflating things that I have said. The cornerstone is legal professional privilege. That is not access to a lawyer; it is the confidential nature of discussions between a lawyer and their client. That is the cornerstone that has been in existence for hundreds of years and that is held out internationally as a gold standard that we have in this country. That is what is being undermined by this Bill saying that a police officer can stand and listen to the consultation that is going on between the client and the lawyer. That is not the same as access to a lawyer, which is none the less important but is not of the same nature as I was describing in relation to legal professional privilege.
Richard Atkinson: That is the most alarming part, yes. Access to a lawyer is important, but you were seeking to conflate the two. I am happy to discuss either, but not the two together.
Richard Atkinson: Yes, I think they should, and under the code of practice that currently applies to schedule 7 to the 2000 Act, if a suspect requests legal advice, that is entitled to be considered and they may be given it, so this is not something new to terrorism legislation. It is already there in the code of practice that suspects are entitled to ask for legal advice at that point.
Richard Atkinson: If they are questioning you, yes.
Richard Atkinson: If it has gone beyond screening, then yes.
Richard Atkinson: I would separate out some of those actions. If they are X-raying your bag, if they are looking for physical evidence to support a suspicion, then no, you do not have a lawyer at that point. If they have formed a suspicion and are now looking to ask you questions, then yes. However, more particularly under this legislation, the concern is that you have no right to remain silent, you have to answer these questions. So, devoid of legal advice and required to answer the questions is a significant act on the part of the state.
Richard Atkinson: That is not something I can comment on. It may be correct. I do not know.
Richard Atkinson: I do understand what is being sought. What I am saying is that there is a need for legal safeguards for those individuals. I do not see how those prevent evidence of the type you are talking about from being obtained. With a telephone, you are talking about the material being taken away and examined. It is not a matter of questioning at that point, and I have not sought to say that that should not be the case.
If you want to move on to the wider issue around seizure of legally privileged material, that is a different issue and I would have comments on that.
Richard Atkinson: That is correct.
Richard Atkinson: No.
Richard Atkinson: I do not think the two prevent one another. Obtaining legal advice, bearing in mind that the individual has to answer questions, is not going to stop the objectives of the legislation or investigation. As I have already indicated, if there are specific concerns about the individual adviser, they can be met in the way that the codes of practice attached to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act currently address the matter. So, no, I do not think there is any problem in maintaining legal professional privilege and achieving the objectives that are sought.
Richard Atkinson: I will take a moment to gather my thoughts around that. As far as other matters go, specifically going back to—although we did not quite touch on it—legal professional privilege, there is the issue of seizure of material and its examination. Again, it concerns me that, where legally privileged material is seized, it can be both examined and seized, even though it is legally professionally privileged material. I understand that the concern is that there will be those who falsely make the claim that the material is privileged—either that they themselves are lawyers and are privileged, or that the documentation and material they are carrying is in some form privileged and therefore should not be viewed by investigators.
In order to maintain privilege, which I think is so important, there are safeguards that can be imposed, which would mean that privilege is maintained but that the objectives are met. It has to be borne in mind that legal professional privilege does not extend to agreements to carry out illegal acts. If someone comes to me and wants to plan some illegal activity, it is not a privileged conversation and material. If there is material that is claimed to be privileged at the time of the seizure—bearing in mind that when he gave evidence to the Joint Human Rights Committee, Max Hill said that he saw this being a handful of cases, so we are not talking of hundreds of cases here—it would be perfectly legitimate to seize that material, bag it immediately and then put it in front of an independent counsel—lawyer—who would then be able to assess whether or not that material is privileged. If it is privileged that is the end. If it is not privileged, that material goes to investigators to be dealt with. It can be dealt with in a very short time, because lawyers are very adept at making themselves available to deal with urgent situations. When we are talking about a small number of cases to protect the fundamental right of legal privilege, that would be, in my view, an adequate and proportionate safeguard for dealing with that situation.
To your wider question—whether there were any other concerns—I suppose I could say three clicks et al. We have some concerns that the three clicks provision could potentially be restrictive or undermining of those with legitimate cause, such as journalists or academics making research into areas where they may find themselves falling foul of the legislation. I understand the statutory defence of reasonable excuse, but that is none the less relatively vague. The timings—you spoke about this in the earlier session and about having no time limit on this—are also vague.
To leave the law in the hands of prosecutorial decision as to whether or not it meets the public interest is a step too far. I think there is a need for greater definition around what is being sought to be prohibited. I understand the rationale for it and the need to prevent radicalisation, but we also need to ensure that we do not inadvertently criminalise those who are undertaking legitimate tasks. Although I was unaware of the specific example that one of your colleagues raised, of the worker in WHSmith, that shows the risk of simply relying on prosecutorial discretion as to whether matters should be prosecuted. In that case, clearly, a discretion was exercised to prosecute, and from what you have said—I do not know the case, so I am relying on the information given here—that was later found to be wrong.
It was at the Old Bailey, and it was overturned by the Court of Appeal—
Order. You need to speak through the Chair.
Richard Atkinson: That was an example where prosecutorial discretion was not aptly relied upon. When drafting legislation, where there are obvious potential concerns, it would be beneficial if that was better spelled out.
My question is about to what extent you think that clause 3 could risk criminalising thought without action—people may not have to do anything. That is what that case hinged on.
Richard Atkinson: If I am honest, I am not sure I have a view on that at the moment. I think that is the most honest answer I can give.
Richard Atkinson: It is an area of concern for us because, clearly, it is right that individuals’ data is not routinely withheld, and we have looked at that in the past. I do not think I am qualified to answer on the need to extend the period, but your question very much enunciates our position, which is that any extension of time periods needs to be justified by objective evidence. I know the Committee were asking for examples of that from the two earlier witnesses. Before one could be satisfied of the need to extend periods of retention of biometric data, there would need to be a case made out. I certainly have not seen it. It was not something that could readily be articulated this morning, and great caution needs to be expressed before extending the periods of the retention of that data without an evidential base.
Richard Atkinson: First, the conflation of journalistic material and legally privileged material is unfortunate. I understand the importance of journalistic material, but I would respectfully submit that it is not in the same category as legally privileged material. It is a different category of material and should be treated differently. I may have misunderstood the process, but as I understand it, the investigator views the material, seizes it and then seeks power to retain it, which means that the privileged material has already been viewed and the privilege breached.
“there are reasonable grounds to believe”.
Richard Atkinson: So you have seized it, viewed it and seek permission to retain it.
“an examining officer may retain the article…for the purpose…while the officer believes”.
Paragraph 12 states:
“This paragraph applies in relation to an article retained by virtue of paragraph 11(2)(d) or (e)…The Investigatory Powers Commissioner…must be informed of the article’s retention”.
Paragraph 12(4) states:
“The Commissioner may…direct that the article is destroyed, or…authorise the retention and use of the article”
subject to whatever.
Richard Atkinson: My understanding—I could be wrong—is that that material will have been viewed prior to the application to retain it, which is a breach of legal professional privilege. The breach occurs, and then in order to perpetuate the breach, if I may put it that way, an application is made. That is too late, so far as legal professional privilege is concerned. Whether that is the case with journalistic material, I leave for others to argue. For legal professional privilege, to breach it and then seek permission to retain it is too late. It should be that as soon as privilege is claimed, that material is then examined. Ordinarily, you cannot go behind privilege, and that is it, but I understand that, in the particular circumstances being addressed here, it is important that the veracity of the claim is properly checked. That is what I am saying the first stage is. It is someone saying, “I am taking your briefcase.” The person says, “Don’t look at that file. That is a privileged file.” The other person responds, “Right. I will put it in a bag, and we will see whether it is.”
Richard Atkinson: If your proposition is correct and there is therefore judicial oversight of that material, I would not have concerns, but that is not how I read it operating. We differ on that.
Richard Atkinson: Yes, but the issue is whether privilege is breached prior to that.
Richard Atkinson: Yes, I do.
The judicial commissioners will be the oversight for the use of the hostile port stops overall—the annual report or whatever it is.
As there are no further questions from Members, I thank you, Mr Atkinson, for your time and evidence this morning. As the Committee is not due to meet again until 2 pm, I invite the Government Whip to move the adjournment.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Paul Maynard.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.