Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, delivered the Tom Sargant Memorial Lecture to a busy room on Tuesday 24 October.
The lecture, titled ‘Rights vs Security: the challenge engaged’, discussed the tension between rights on the one hand and security on the other and the potential for terrorism legislation, in the interests of national security, to impinge upon fundamental rights of the general population. The event was hosted by Shearman & Sterling LLP in London.
Hill’s speech covered many aspects of the way the UK deals with terrorism, including sentencing. ‘Sentencing must fit the offence, but it must also be flexible according to the characteristics of the offender,’ he said, while also arguing that wide discretion must rest with the experienced judiciary who try these cases. Hill questioned whether in ‘more modest or middle ground terrorist offences’ there is a real need – as opposed to a political desire – to mark the offenders with far longer terms in jail.
When it comes to prosecution, Hill argued that there are already many ways of catching them and their criminal activity and that investigators and prosecutors need to be encouraged to use the full range of current powers at their disposal, including financial, identification, fraud, firearms, public order and conspiracy offences, in order to capture the full range of criminality represented by future cases.
‘These offences are all tried and tested, they sit solidly within the mass of general crime statutes, and terrorism neither deserves nor requires special treatment in the name of identifying criminal activity and bringing it before our courts,’ said Hill.
Hill pointed out that many people within Muslim communities are already doing a great deal to combat terrorism and argues that there is an urgent need to address the feeling of lack of engagement within these communities: ‘A more proactive role ought to be taken by government at all levels to address wider concerns, and not just to engage with these communities when things have gone wrong.’
During his lecture, Hill warned that ‘the struggle for national security must not be used as a stick to beat down the rights we hold dear. If that were to happen, terrorism would have prevailed.
‘We as a nation must not be terrified, nor must we allow our Parliament to enact measures that might make things worse not better.’