Policy

Protecting the UK against terrorism

Issue

The threat to the UK and our interests from international terrorism is substantial. This means that there is a strong possibility of a terrorist attack, and an attack may occur without warning.

The terrorist threats we face now are more diverse than before, dispersed across a wider geographical area, and often in countries without effective governance. We therefore face an unpredictable situation, with potentially more frequent, less sophisticated terrorist attacks.

The most significant terrorist threat to the UK and our interests overseas comes from the Al Qa’ida senior leadership based in the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and their affiliates and supporters in other areas.

Actions

The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in the Home Office, works to counter the threat from terrorism. Their work is covered in the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.

The strategy is based on 4 areas of work:

We are developing and improving our work to protect the UK from terrorism. In particular, we are:

Background

National Security Strategy

In October 2010, the government published a new National Security Strategy which identified terrorism as one of the 4 highest risks we face. In the strategy we committed to giving top priority to countering the threat from terrorism at home and overseas.

CONTEST strategy

In July 2011, we published the third version of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST. The strategy set out the threat we face and our priorities for dealing with it through to 2015.

When we published the CONTEST strategy, we committed to producing an annual report setting out the progress we’ve achieved against the strategy’s objectives.

Review of counter-terrorism powers

In January 2011 the Home Secretary published the findings from the review of the most sensitive CT and security powers. This led to 3 new pieces of legislation (see below).

Review of the Prevent strategy

In 2011 Lord Carlile of Berriew carried out a review into the Prevent strategy. After the consultation we updated the strategy. We now deal more proportionately with all kinds of terrorist threat and concentrate on some aspects of non-violent extremism that create an environment conducive to radicalisation.

Bills and legislation

Terrorism Act 2000

The Terrorism Act 2000 provides the legal basis for prosecuting terrorists and proscribing organisations (ie banning them from operating in the UK).

The Home Office publishes the criteria for proscribing organisations and a list of the organisations that are proscribed.

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 repealed the stop and search powers known as ‘Section 44’ and replaced them with fairer and more specific powers.

The new stop and search powers enable the police to protect the public but also make sure that there are strong safeguards to prevent a return to the previous excessive use of stop and search without suspicion.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 also reduced the maximum period that a terrorist suspect could be detained before they are charged or released from 28 to 14 days. Control orders were repealed and replaced with a more streamlined and less intrusive system.

The act ended the use of the most intrusive Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) powers by local authorities to investigate low level offences. It introduced a requirement that applications by local authorities to use any RIPA techniques must be approved by a magistrate.

Find out more about RIPA

Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Act 2011

In December 2011 the Terrorism Prevention and Investigations Measures Act 2011 introduced the new system of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

These measures protect the public from the small number of people who pose a real terrorist threat to our security but who cannot be prosecuted, or in the case of foreign nationals, deported.

Communications Data Bill

We published a draft Communications Data Bill on 14 June 2012. A Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament scrutinised the draft Bill and reported on 11 December 2012.

The Intelligence and Security Committee has also conducted its own, independent, inquiry into the draft bill, as this is an area that affects the work of the intelligence agencies. The Committee issued a summary of its report and conclusions and published its report, ‘Access to communications data by the intelligence and security agencies’, on 5 February 2013.

In their findings both Committees have recognised the need for new laws.

The Home Office has considered the Joint Committee’s recommendations carefully and accepts the substance of them all. In light of this, we are re-drafting the Bill and the Home Office is engaging with interested parties on our revised proposals.

Justice and Security Bill

The Justice and Security Bill is being considered by Parliament. The bill will:

  • make the government and the intelligence services more accountable to the courts – it will introduce Closed Material Hearings in a very limited number of cases, so the court will be able to hear the case - and see all the evidence - regardless of how much information relating to national security is involved

  • stop people, including those with no connection to the UK, using the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction of the court to get access to intelligence material which, if made public, could compromise national security

  • make the intelligence services more accountable to Parliament for their actions - the bill extends the committee’s remit and improves Parliamentary oversight so that Parliament, not the Prime Minister, will have the final say on the membership of the Intelligence and Security Committee

Who we’ve consulted

Over the last 2 years the Home Office has consulted with the public and relevant interested parties on a number of issues relating to counter terrorism.

In November 2010 we undertook a 3 month consultation process about the Prevent strategy - this resulted in a revised and updated strategy published in June 2011.

In March 2011 we consulted on a new code of practice for the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems and other similar surveillance systems.

In September 2011 we consulted on proposals to introduce a statutory authority to carry scheme, which would prevent individuals who pose a terrorist threat from flying to the UK. We published the government response in April 2012, together with the final security and travel bans authority to carry scheme, which came into effect in July 2012.

In February 2012 we consulted on a draft code of practice for counter-terrorism stop and search powers](. This consultation followed the review of the counter-terrorism and security powers, which recommended that existing stop and search powers be replaced with more specific measures. Following the consultation we made a number of changes to the code of practice to ensure the powers are used fairly and effectively. The code of practice came into operation in July 2012.

In September 2012 we consulted on the operation of Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 in order to ensure that the operation of its powers is necessary and proportionate. We are now reviewing possible improvements to the powers.

In December 2012 we consulted on a revised code of practice governing independent custody visiting for England and Wales. In March 2013 we published a summary of responses and the final code of practice.  

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