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Political and Social Context
On 11th September 2001 Al-Qaeda terrorists killed 3,000 people by flying airplanes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon building in the USA. As a result, the UK and the USA invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban regime which supported the terrorists. The UK government wished to deal with the threat of foreign Islamic extremists. However, a stumbling block to this was that under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, member states must prevent torture or inhuman treatment. This prevented the deportation of anyone to a country where they faced the risk of such treatment. As a result, the government could not deport people it suspected of being terrorists to their home country if there was a risk they would face such treatment there. Furthermore, criminal proceedings could not be brought because this would require that top secret evidence be disclosed in court. The government’s solution was to enact legislation. The Bill was fast-tracked through Parliament owing to concerns about national security. It took only 16 hours for MPs to debate the Bill before passing it to the House of Lords for approval.
In order to deal with the problem of deporting people, Part 4 of the Act provided for the detention of suspected terrorists indefinitely and without trial on the authority of the Secretary of State. The Act also went further, giving the Secretary of State the power to make freezing orders in relation to suspects and increasing the powers of the authorities to investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists or those who facilitated terrorism. Part 3 contained measures allowing personal and private information to be obtained by the police. Part 6 created new offences in relation to weapons of mass destruction, while Parts 7-9 aimed to increase the security of the aviation and nuclear industries and placed new duties on those dealing with pathogens.
Main changes to the law
Sections 1-3 created a new offence where financial institutions failed to report any suspicion of terrorist financing.
Section 4 gave a power to make freezing orders to the Secretary of State if the Treasury reasonably believed an action was likely to be of detriment to the UK economy or threatened the life or property of a UK resident or national. The order prohibited funds being made available to anyone named in the order.
Sections 17-20 extended the authority of those investigating terrorism to obtain information from the Treasury, Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise and other government departments provided this was proportionate.
Under s.23 the Secretary of State could order a person’s detention if the Home Secretary reasonably believed that the person’s presence in the UK was a risk to national security and he suspected the person was a terrorist. The Act allowed an appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. Under the Commission’s rules, the detained person was not allowed to see any top secret evidence against them. Therefore, the Act allowed for the appointment of a Special Advocate who could see all the evidence and cross-examine witnesses. However, the Special Advocate was not allowed to communicate with the suspect without permission from the Commission.
Section 39 provided that racially aggravated offences of assault, public order and harassment under the Crime and Disorder act 1998 would include ‘religiously aggravated’ behaviour.
Part 6 created offences of causing nuclear explosions, possessing or creating nuclear weapons, participating in such activity, facilitating the development of nuclear weapons, and buying, selling or making arrangements to acquire or dispose of such weapons. These offences had a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Other offences included transferring biological agents or toxins for other than for peaceful purposes. The offences applied anywhere in the world if done by a UK person. Under s.49 it was a defence to possessing or transferring a nuclear weapon to prove that the suspect did not know and had no reason to believe it was a nuclear weapon or that he took all reasonable steps to inform the authorities as soon as he did know.
Part 10 extended police powers for terrorism offences. Section 89 gave the police the power to take fingerprints from a terrorist suspect to establish their identity. Section 92 amended the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to allow the police to take photographs of suspects by force. Section 94 gave the police the power to demand the removal of items of clothing which a police officer believes are being worn to conceal a person’s identity and created an offence of not complying with this.
Section s.113 created a criminal offence of using or threatening to use a noxious substance in a way designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.
Section 117 made it a criminal offence not to disclose as soon as reasonably practicable information which they believe or know might be of material assistance in preventing an act of terrorism or in investigating terrorism offences.
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