The UK’s terrorism laws are so broad they could be applied to journalists and their supporters, as well as crimes that have nothing to do with terrorism, according to a new report from the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
David Anderson QC presented his report to Parliament today, and called on ministers to reverse the increasing “creep” of the laws in recent years.
The report focused on the definition of terrorism in the UK, which among other things currently means that someone can be considered a terrorist if they publish material that is considered to endanger life or to pose a health risk to the public. This could have legitimate purposes, perhaps in the case of a radical cleric calling for violence, or someone distributing plans on how to manufacture bombs.
But the problem is that the law isn’t specific enough, meaning that it can be applied to cases that do not have anything to do with terrorism. Anderson makes reference to section 1(1)(b) of the Terrorism Act 2000, which states, “In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public.”
That may sound reasonable, but upon closer inspection it’s quite wide-reaching, and the report highlights that in other countries, a “terrorist” under this section must additionally have the intention of coercing or intimidating the government. There is concern that this broader definition gives police and the legal system much greater powers where they are not necessary or appropriate.
“They give too much power to individual police officers, and to the Government,” Anderson said in a press release. “They make people more cautious than they need to be in what they say and what they write.”