Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

Priti Patel refuses to change UK terrorism laws to safeguard aid groups from prosecution

UK Home Secretary says there have been few prosecutions despite a series of charity scandals

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has responded to a report into an overhaul of the UK terrorism laws. Reuters
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has responded to a report into an overhaul of the UK terrorism laws. Reuters

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has refused to change terrorism legislation to safeguard aid groups in conflict zones from prosecution, saying that the current legislation is adequate, with few aid workers having faced prosecution despite a string of charity scandals.

Ms Patel made the announcement in a letter to the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall QC, late on Thursday, in response to his inquiry into the country’s legislation.

In Mr Hall’s report, published in March, he made 28 recommendations to the home secretary to overhaul the UK’s terrorism laws.

In her letter, Ms Patel said she has rejected 15 of his recommendations, that the government is still considering three, and has partially accepted another.

He had raised concerns over the threats aid workers face when working in areas run by terrorist groups.

“The risk of committing offences or falling foul of the authorities is most acute where aid agencies are operating in territories which are under the de facto control of designated or proscribed groups, or where such groups are active on the ground,” he said.

“A practical means by which aid agencies can continue to operate in difficult areas without jeopardising legitimate counter-terrorism imperatives remains elusive. There appears to be no prospect of a specific exemption that would allow aid agencies to operate because this would create a "loophole" for unscrupulous individuals.

“The brokering of a practical solution is not within my remit. But ultimately it is the criminal prohibition in the proscription legislation which underpins the peril for aid agencies and banks.

“There is little excuse for not keeping the list of proscribed organisations up to date. Steps must be taken to reduce the impact on overseas aid agencies.”

Ms Patel said the present legislation is adequate but agreed to Mr Hall’s request that she consult the Attorney General to consider issuing guidance to aid agencies.

“The Government is confident that existing counter-terrorism legislation does not prevent organisations, including aid agencies, operating in high-risk jurisdictions overseas,” she said.

“Our counter-terrorism legislative framework is deliberately widely drawn to capture the ever-diversifying nature of the terrorist threat that we face. There are inherent risks for any organisation operating in high-risk jurisdictions; the risk of prosecution for a terrorism offence as a result of involvement in legitimate humanitarian efforts is however low.”

Ms Patel rejected his recommendation to impose time limits on the proscription of terrorist groups.

He had advised that proscription sanctions should automatically lapse but Ms Patel said groups placed on the terrorism list have the opportunity to appeal and she was content this was sufficient.

Since she became home secretary in July 2019 she said she has not received a single request. She said only five requests have been made since 2015.

“Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist organisations are not tolerated in the UK and deters them from operating here,” she said.

The home secretary accepted his recommendation to impose a two-year expiry on Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs) once a person has returned to the UK.

TEOs are used as a tool by the UK to deal with returning foreign terrorist fighters and suspected terrorists.

It enables the UK government to remove their passports and impose strict monitoring conditions on them and attendance on deradicalisation schemes once they have returned to the UK.

But Mr Hall pointed to a gap in the law which has seen two-year TEOs imposed on people before they returned which would then expire within months of them being in the UK, which meant the courses did not have time to be effective.

Ms Patel also agreed to consider imposing TEOs on non-British citizens.

Earlier this year, Mr Hall published a review into last year’s attack near London Bridge and made 45 recommendations. In it, he recommended terrorist offenders should take lie detector tests. The Home Office is still considering this report.

Updated: October 23, 2020 06:22 PM

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