The government’s controversial anti-terrorism bill risks violating human rights, according to a group of cross-party MPs.
The committee has flagged 27 amendments for parliament to consider, “which seek to ensure the bill restricts rights only to the extent that it is necessary and proportionate to do so.”
Bill Does Not ‘Comply with Fundamental Rights’
Credit: Flickr Photon
In July 2018, a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights raised ‘serious concerns’ about the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which is currently going through parliament, because it does not ‘comply with fundamental rights’.
The new report, published in October, stresses that those concerns have not been allayed.
The proposed amendments include significantly altering or deleting Clause 1 of the bill, which creates a new offence of expressing an opinion or belief in support of a proscribed organisation. The committee feels that this impinges on freedom of speech.
We are particularly concerned that a sentence of 15 years could be imposed for a precursor offence of viewing terrorist material online three times or more.
Joint Committee on Human Rights
The committee highlights that access to information could be compromised by the criminalisation of accessing terrorist material online. The bill proposes that accessing terrorist material online, be punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The committee’s report states: “We are particularly concerned that a sentence of 15 years could be imposed for a precursor offence of viewing terrorist material online three times or more.”
The committee noted that this could jeopardise legitimate research, for example by academics or journalists, or individuals accessing material out of curiosity.
Previously, the advocacy group Liberty argued criminalising innocent curiosity could undermine Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention, freedom of expression, which includes the right to both ‘receive and impart information.’
Other tabled amendments relate to concerns around the government storing biometric data without review and limiting access to lawyers for individuals stopped and searched under terrorism legislation at ports and borders.
Liberty Versus National Security
Harriet Harman chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has flagged ‘serious concerns’ with the Counter Terrorism Bill
Credit: Flickr University of Salford
The government has a balance to strike between national security and civil liberties.
In tabling the bill, the Minister of State for Security, Bill Wallace, said, “This bill will ensure that the police, Security Service, prosecutors and the judiciary have the powers they need to tackle the evolving threat posed to the UK by terrorism and hostile state activity, in order to keep the public safe and to protect our national security.”
However, the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Labour MP Harriet Harman, argued: “Despite our previous warnings, this bill still crosses the line on human rights. We’ve put forward a range of amendments designed to bring it in line with human rights, taking into account the wide-ranging and expert evidence we took.”
She continued: “The government has failed to give us adequate justification for provisions which risk undermining free speech and giving them wide and unaccountable powers. I trust the Lords will make sure the government will now address our arguments properly.”
Human rights campaigners have also raised concerns. Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counter-terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch, said. “The new UK counter-terrorism bill veers dangerously toward the logic of guilty until proven innocent. Parliament should strip this bill of provisions that risk harming legitimate activities in the name of security.”
The new UK counter-terrorism bill risks subverting the very freedoms and democratic principles that it purports to protect
Human Rights Watch
Taylor continued: “The new UK counter-terrorism bill risks subverting the very freedoms and democratic principles that it purports to protect. Abroad, it gives countries with fewer checks and balances a dangerous excuse to follow suit.”