Britain must update its 670-year-old law on treason to allow fighters who swear allegiance to ISIS to face trial and life imprisonment in the UK, according to a new report published on Wednesday.
The report – backed by senior judicial and political figures – says the current law is “unworkable” to prosecute Britons accused of betraying the state by taking up arms for groups bent on attacking the UK.
The 58-page report was released in the week that the British government lifted its blanket opposition to the death penalty to allow two alleged ISIS terrorists to stand trial in the United States. The British government citing limitations in domestic law to secure long jail terms.
The authors of the report Aiding the Enemy said that a workable version of the treason laws would have allowed former British citizens Alexanda Kotey and Shafee El Sheikh to be tried in the UK.
The pair are accused members of the notorious group of ISIS assassins dubbed The Beatles who have been blamed for the beheadings of five westerners and the torture of others held in Syria in 2014 and 2015.
They were captured in January 2018 and have reportedly had their British citizenship revoked. Negotiations continue over where they should be tried.
The report said that jail terms for British citizens who backed ISIS were “often manifestly inadequate” and said that anyone convicted under a revived treason law would normally face life in prison.
Nearly 200 people have been convicted of terrorism offences in the UK between 2006 and 2017 but more than 80 of them are due to be released before the end of the year. The report said they could have been held longer if jailed under a re-tooled treason law.
The last person to be convicted under the law was William Joyce, a fascist and propagandist for the Nazis during the Second World War. He was hanged in 1946, but the death penalty was not formally repealed for another 42 years.
“The law as it stands fails to mark out and punish the wrong of betraying one’s country,” according to the report by the Policy Exchange think-tank. It said the law should apply to any British resident accused of betraying the UK wherever the crime is carried out in the world.
Co-author Tom Tughendhat, a ruling party MP and head of the influential foreign affairs parliamentary committee, said: “British citizens who aid groups like ISIS… betray our country and should be condemned. The law must be written to ensure they can be stopped and their betrayal is recognised as a distinct crime.”