House of Lords bid to derail Boris Johnson plan to extend terror sentences

House of Lords bid to derail Boris Johnson plan to extend terror sentences

Two former reviewers of the government’s anti-terror legislation have launched a bid to stop Boris Johnson changing the law so that Islamist prisoners currently in jail can be kept behind bars for longer.

The prime minister says the new law being rushed through parliament in the wake of this month’s Islamist knife attack in Streatham must be passed by Thursday to avoid the release over the coming weeks of offenders who pose a threat to the public. The House of Lords is being asked to complete all stages of the bill in a single day on Monday.

But a former director of public prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, told The Independent that it was “fatuous” to believe that the move would keep the public safe without the commitment of extra funds for deradicalisation programmes in jails and supervision of offenders after release.

And former anti-terror law reviewers David Anderson and Alex Carlile joined with Conservative former attorney general Edward Garnier and former Lib Dem deputy leader Alan Beith to table an amendment which would block Mr Johnson’s plan for the release of existing terror inmates to be delayed until they have served at least two-thirds of their sentence, rather than being freed automatically on licence at the halfway point as at present.

With Labour expected to back the government plans, the peers’ amendment stands next to no chance of success on Monday. But Mr Johnson is expected to face calls from peers including shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti to improve public safety by reversing Conservative cuts to the courts, prisons and probation system.

“Make no mistake, if there is an emergency, it is one of this Government’s own making,” Lady Chakrabarti told The Independent. “It is the emergency of our over-stuffed under-staffed prisons, many almost controlled by dangerous offenders and where prisoners are very likely to leave more dangerous than when they entered. It is the emergency of a criminal justice system on its knees, of crumbling courts and of prisons and probation run for private profit not public safety.

“Labour will engage constructively with the new sentencing proposals but we will not let this Government off the hook for the double-speak and distraction of attacking judges, lawyers and human rights values whilst they pretend you can keep our people safe on the cheap. No new legislation will work without massive re-investment in our criminal justice system.”

Sudesh Amman stabbed two people in a south London high street just 10 days after being released from prison having served half of a 40-month sentence. Although he was considered such a significant risk that he was kept under 24-hour surveillance, there was no way of preventing his automatic release under existing laws. The attack came shortly after the murder of two people at London Bridge in November by another terror convict released halfway through his sentence.

The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill will delay early release to two-thirds of the sentence and make it conditional on a Parole Board ruling that it is safe.

It was rushed through the Commons in a single day with the aim of becoming law before the scheduled release on 28 February of Mohammed Zahir Khan after half of his four-and-a-half year term for encouraging terrorism.

Lord Anderson has written to justice minister Lord Keen warning that the change will breach the long-standing legal principle that prisoners should not be retrospectively subjected to changes to the sentencing regime introduced after their original conviction.

He backed the requirement for Parole Board approval, but said that retrospectively changing the date would result in “the continued incarceration… of prisoners who pose no continuing threat to the public and who were told by the sentencing judge, in accordance with the law then in force, that they would be released at the halfway point”.

Lord Garnier told The Independent: “No matter how long you put people in prison for, they need to be rehabilitated while they are in prison.

“It is delusional to just pass these laws as if that was enough. It isn’t enough. It’s a fraud on the public to say that increasing the release period without doing anything more is an answer. Unless you do something effective with these people while they are in prison, you are fooling yourself and misleading the public.

“Someone who would come out after two years under the current system would be out after three under the government’s proposals. In practical terms, what’s the difference? I’m not the terrorists’ friend, I’m worried about the public being misled into thinking they are being provided with some sort of long-term protection.”

Lord Macdonald backs the government proposals and said he would not support the Anderson amendment.

“I think it is perverse for a state to grant early release to terrorist prisoners who it regards as still dangerous,” he said. “I think that’s something that urgently needs correcting.”

But he added: “It is absolutely fatuous for the government simply to be talking in terms of sentence length. We have got to be in a situation where we are reasonably confident that when people are released they aren’t dangerous. We have to invest money into deradicalisation and post-release supervision.

“We’ve spent 10 years denuding the justice system and prisons of funding. We are not talking about impossible sums of money – there are only just over 200 terrorist prisoners in our jails.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The public rightly expect us to take swift and decisive action after two terrorist attacks, to prevent more dangerous offenders being released early.

 “Robust supervision or monitoring arrangements will be in place for all offenders upon release.”

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