Press release

Longer jail terms and stricter monitoring as new terror laws gain Royal Assent

The biggest shake-up of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades has been granted Royal Assent today (29 April 2021) – giving the courts, police and security services greater powers to protect the public.

  • minimum of 14 years behind bars for most dangerous terror offenders
  • end to automatic early release
  • tougher monitoring for terrorists on licence

The new Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act (2021) completely ends the prospect of early release for anyone convicted of a serious terror offence and forces them to spend their whole term in jail.

The most dangerous offenders – such as those found guilty of preparing or carrying out acts of terrorism where lives were lost or at risk – now face a minimum of 14 years in prison and up to 25 years on licence, with stricter supervision.

Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

Those who seek to kill and maim innocent people in the name of some warped ideology have no place in our society.

This legislation will put terrorists behind bars for longer – protecting the public and helping to keep our streets safe.

The Act builds on emergency legislation passed in February 2020, following the terrorist atrocities at Fishmongers’ Hall and in Streatham, which retrospectively ended automatic early release for terrorists serving standard determinate sentences. This forced them to spend a minimum two-thirds of their term behind bars before being considered for release by the Parole Board.

The new laws go further and allow courts to consider whether a much wider range of offences have a terror connection - for example an offence involving the supply or possession of firearms with a proven link to terrorist activity - and hand down tougher punishments. This also ends the prospect of terror offenders being released automatically before the end of their sentence.

Crucially, the new legislation also enhances the tools available to counter-terrorism police and the security services to manage the risk posed by terrorist offenders and individuals of concern outside of custody.

This includes stronger Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures and making it easier for the police to apply for a Serious Crime Prevention Order in terrorism cases. Additionally, it widens the list of those offences that can be classed as terror-connected and thus trigger Registered Terrorist Offender notification requirements – meaning more offenders will be required to provide the police with regular updates on changes to their circumstances, such as a new address or when they plan to travel abroad.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill marks the largest overhaul of terrorist sentencing and monitoring in decades.

This legislation will lengthen sentences for terrorists, improve monitoring of these dangerous offenders, and give the law enforcement agencies the powers to strengthen their ability to take action.

Those who senselessly seek to damage and destroy lives need to know we will do everything possible to stop them. I will always take the strongest possible action to protect our national security.

Key measures include:

  • a new ‘Serious Terrorism Sentence’ for dangerous offenders with a 14-year minimum jail term and up to 25 years spent on licence
  • ending early release for the most serious offenders who receive Extended Determinate Sentences – instead the whole time will be served in custody
  • increasing the maximum penalty from 10 to 14 years for a number of terror offences, including membership of a proscribed organisation
  • ensuring a minimum period of 12 months on licence for all terror offenders as well as requiring adult offenders to take polygraph tests
  • widening the  offences that can be classed as terror-connected to ensure they carry tougher sentences and offenders are subject to the Registered Terrorist Offender notification requirements post-release.
  • boosting the disruption and risk management tools available to Counter-Terrorism Policing and the Security Service, by strengthening Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures and supporting the use of Serious Crime Prevention Orders in terrorism cases.

Notes to editors

These measures will come into force 2 months after Royal Assent except for the following which come into force immediately.

  • Changes relating to currently serving prisoners in Northern Ireland, who will be subject to the same release arrangements as terrorists in England & Wales and Scotland, aligning the approach taken in the emergency legislation (Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Act 2020).
  • Measures relating to the extension of the Sentence for Offenders of Particular Concern (SOPC) in England and Wales, and the creation of an equivalent sentence in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • Removal of the statutory deadline for completion of the Independent Review of Prevent.

Further sections in the Act include:

  • The maximum penalty for the following offences will increase from 10 to 14 years
    • Membership of a proscribed organisation
    • Supporting a proscribed organisation
    • Attending a place used for terrorist training
  • Changes to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) Act 2011 through this Act will:
    • Specify new measures that can be applied to TPIM subjects, such as a mandatory polygraph or drugs test.
    • Lower the standard of proof required to impose a TPIM, from “balance of probabilities” to “reasonable belief” of involvement in terrorism-related activity.
    • Increase the maximum duration of a TPIM from 2 years to 5 years. As is current practice, TPIMs will require annual renewal to ensure they remain necessary and proportionate for the purposes of public protection, and will be subject to regular review, including through quarterly TPIM Review Groups.
    • Amend some of the existing measures that can be applied to TPIM subjects, including allowing a TPIM’s relocation measure to be varied to ensure the efficient and effective use of resources.
  • Adding breach of a TPIM and breach of a Temporary Exclusion Order to the list of offences which can trigger the RTO notification requirements. The notification requirements mean RTOs aged 16 or over must routinely provide information to the police following their release from prison, which assists in the long-term management of their risk.
  • Amend the Serious Crime Act 2007 to allow CT Policing to make a direct application to the High Court for a Serious Crime Prevention Order (SCPO) in relation to individuals over the age of 18 involved in terrorism, supporting their use in terrorism-related cases.
  • Amend the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 to require the courts, in cases where it appears  that any non-terrorism offence with a maximum penalty of more than 2 years was committed in the course of an act of terrorism, or for the purpose of terrorism, to consider whether the offence was committed with a terrorist connection and should be aggravated as such.
  • Remove the current statutory deadline for an independent review of the Prevent programme, while maintaining the legislative commitment to undertake it, to ensure that the new Reviewer has sufficient time to complete the Review. The Review’s published Terms of Reference state that Reviewer’s report and the government response will now be laid in Parliament by 31 December 2021.
  • Only a handful of minor offences – where there is a maximum penalty of 2 years or below – will be excluded from provisions in the Bill.  E.g. relating to ‘tipping off’ in relation to investigation in the regulated sector, wearing a uniform or displaying an article of a proscribed organisation or parking in contravention of a prohibition, and as such are low level offences. Data indicates that prosecution and conviction for these are rare - there is little to no risk that these low-level offences are charged where there is insufficient evidence to charge for a more serious offence.
  • The most serious terror offences already attract what are known as Extended Determinate Sentences, which require an offender to be referred to the Parole Board at the two-third stage of their sentence where they can be considered for release. The Bill removes this early release point for those whose offence carries a maximum penalty of life, meaning offenders serve their full time in prison and are then subject up to 10 years on licence. Longer and more restrictive monitoring can be applied if they are deemed a greater risk.
  • It means that anyone found guilty of a terror offence where the max penalty is 2 years or more will either be given:
    • A life sentence – where the offender spends minimum period or “tariff” before considered for release by the Parole Board.  Offender may therefore never be released. If released offenders spend rest of life on licence and can be recalled to custody.
    • Serious Terrorism Sentence for the worst offenders where there was a likelihood of multiple deaths which carries a minimum 14-year sentence with an extended licence period of 7-25 years
    • An Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) which, for the most serious offenders (where the maximum penalty was life) will be forced to spend their entire sentence in prison with an extended licence period of up to 10 years. Other serious offenders will still be in line for an EDS with the possibility of release from the two-thirds point if the Parole Board determines they are safe to release before the end of their sentence.
    • Or a Sentence for Offenders of Particular Concern (SOPC) for adult or youth offenders which would see a terror offender spend two-thirds of their sentence in custody before being able to apply to Parole Board for release and following release they will have a mandatory licence period of 12 months.
  • Funding for counter-terrorism policing will grow to £906 million in 2020 to 2021, a £90 million year-on-year increase. The money will support and maintain the record high number of ongoing counter-terrorism policing investigations and ensure a swift and effective response to terrorist incidents across the country, no matter where they take place.
Published 29 April 2021