UK's anti-terror laws 'tough enough' ahead of large Palestine protest

Jonathan Hall KC, the UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, believes existing powers are already robust

Police have adequate powers to deal with terrorism issues at protests, a new report has found. Getty Images
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The UK's antiterrorism laws are robust enough to meet new challenges, a new report has found.

Jonathan Hall KC, the UK's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has assessed whether existing laws needed to be tightened to cover incendiary chants and flag waving.

The UK is braced for thousands of people to attend London on Saturday for a major pro-Palestine protest march calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Previous marches have sparked calls from officials urging police to take action against protesters who are waving flags and chanting.

However, Mr Hall KC, in his latest report, has stepped back from calling for more intrusive measures which he believes would be a knee-jerk reaction when adequate powers already exist.

“My overall conclusion is that there is no need to legislate for any amendments to terrorism legislation now, and good reason for caution,” he said.

“It is difficult to identify any real situations where a gap in terrorism legislation means that terrorist mischief cannot currently be addressed by arrest and prosecution. Given the number of pro-Palestine marchers, there have been plenty of opportunities for gaps to become apparent.

“There may well be other mischiefs (such as anti-Semitism) but those are not a subject for terrorism legislation.

“It is possible to formulate hypothetical situations where certain words used might, arguably, fall outside terrorism legislation. However, to legislate for hypotheticals would be bad practice: the success of UK terrorism legislation is that it adapts in response to real terrorist harm.

“I am also conscious that if speculative examples were given by me (or during Parliamentary debates) of forms of words potentially falling outside terrorism legislation, it might inspire bad actors to use those forms of words, before amending legislation could be brought into force.

“There is a general risk of legislating in response to one set of protests because of the risk of unintended consequences when new legislation comes to be applied to other protests.

Pro-Palestine activists stage sit-in at London’s Liverpool St station demanding ceasefire

Pro-Palestine activists stage sit-in at London’s Liverpool St station demanding ceasefire

“Finally, I am conscious that real cases are currently before the courts. Where the edges of the current law are being tested out it would be premature to conclude that reform is necessary.”

Mr Hall KC said current legislation was sufficient to provide officers with powers to tackle people encouraging terrorism, such as controversial chanting, and said any efforts to make it more robust could have unintended consequences that could damage freedom of speech.

“The practical implications of a glorifying offence should be considered. A mere glorification offence would apply to the thousands (if not millions) of people online whose sick pleasure it is to engage in competitive praise for, create artwork from, gamify, and generally indulge in transgressive glorification of violence including terrorist violence,” he said.

“In a previous report I recommended that it would not be possible to make it a terrorist offence to possess violent terrorist propaganda, principally because of the number of people who would end up being prosecuted as terrorists. The same point applies here.

“It does no favours to the police, MI5, and His Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service to extend the pool of terrorist offences unnecessarily.”

He said any changes would overload the police, prisons and intelligence services.

The police have faced mounting challenges from mass protest marches taking place across the country against the war in Gaza.

The last one on November 11 saw 126 arrests made.

Ahead of the march, former Home Secretary Suella Braverman had branded pro-Palestinian demonstrators “hate marchers” and was accused of encouraging unrest due to her rhetoric. It led to her sacking.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 2:53 PM