Committee raises concerns over Counter Terrorism bill

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has raised serious concerns that some of the new powers in the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill are too vaguely defined and do not have sufficient safeguards to protect human rights. Raised from the written submissions it received as well as oral evidence from Max Hill QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, the committee’s report highlights question marks over the government’s power to proscribe organisations, accepting its importance but suggesting that criminalizing ‘expressions of support’ for proscribed organisations could prevent debate around the government’s use of its proscription powers. Furthermore, the committee finds that Clause 2 of the Bill, which proposes to criminalise the publication of images online which arouse suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation, risks violating the right to freedom of expression, while Clause 3, criminalising viewing terrorist material online where such material is viewed three or more times, could be deemed a breach of the right to receive information. The committee therefore recommends that: Clause 1 of the Bill, at a minimum, is amended to clarify what expressions of support would or would not be caught by this offence and to ensure that the offence does not risk criminalising debates disproportionately; Clause 2 be deleted or at a minimum amended to safeguard legitimate publications; Clause 3 be amended to ensure that it only captures those viewing material with terrorist intent and to clarify the defence of reasonable excuse. Additionally, it urges that the increase in maximum sentences for certain terrorist offences must be justified, the enhanced notification scheme for registered terrorist offenders needs stronger safeguards, the Prevent programme should be subject to an independent review and the removal of the Biometric Commissioner's oversight of DNA material and for extending the retention period from two to five years without clear notification and review options must be justified. Harriet Harman, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: "The government have got an important job to keep us safe from terrorism. But it must also safeguard human rights. The Committee believes that this Bill goes too far and will be tabling amendments in both the Commons and the Lords."


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