A new study by advocacy group CAGE to mark 20 years of the Terrorism Act has concluded that terror laws have entrenched discrimination against Muslims and foreigners.
The report, 20 Years of TACT: Justice under Threat, also provides statistical and case evidence testifying to how TACT 2000, alongside successive counter-terror legislation, has led to the erosion of rights and the subversion of the judicial system through the increasing use of secret evidence.
From 2000 to the 2015, the British Parliament passed a series of Terrorism Acts which they said were aimed at protecting national security and keeping people safe. The Acts were influenced by the September 11, 2001 attacks and July 7 London bombings, as well as the politics of the Global War on Terrorism.
Between them, they provided a definition of terrorism that made it possible to establish a new set of police powers and procedures, beyond those related to ordinary crime, which could be applied in terrorist cases.
But the CAGE report made these key observations about the effect of those laws:
- The Counter Terrorism (CT) regime has expanded to unprecedented levels, even further than at the height of the Irish Troubles.
- The expansion of CT powers is largely due to pre-crime convictions for offences that are far removed from acts of violence, such as possession of proscribed material, or evidence of an intention to commit offences.
- Prosecutions succeed primarily because the burden of proof shifts to the defendant and because of the reliance on secret evidence, undermining fundamental principles of justice.
- The amplification of “terror arrests” is used as a benchmark of success to capture more funding and power – despite only 11.6% of all terror arrests resulting in convictions.
- The bar for what constitutes a terrorism offence is so low it now includes actions that bear no connection to violence or even ideology. The statistical increases in terrorism convictions is not evidence of an increase in terrorism, but more about the net being widened further.
- The proscribing of “terrorist” organisations is more about foreign policy concerns than domestic security.
The report calls for the abolition of CT legislation, and outlines three basic steps towards a society based on trust and the elimination of mass surveillance and securitisation.
This requires the UK to:
- Revoke the CT regime and return to the use of the standard criminal law process.
- Repair the damage caused to communities targeted by the CT regime.
- Foster an environment built on social security as opposed to “national security.”
Azfar Shafi, author of the report, said: “At a time when questions of police and state violence have taken centre stage, it is critical that we assess how TACT and the ‘counter-terror’ regime have created a sprawling surveillance regime that has led to militarised and dragnet policing. This report seeks to trace the impact on individuals, communities, institutions and principles in British society over the last two decades.
“The perpetual drive for more laws and more powers to combat ‘terrorism’ have served to hollow out the justice system and democracy from the inside out over the last twenty years. This report highlights some of the damage that has been enacted in the name of countering terrorism since 2000, and charts a new direction.”
Fahad Ansari, a Human Rights Solicitor added: “Two decades of counter-terrorism legislation and policies have desensitised the British public to the erosion of due process within the criminal justice system to the extent that it is now controversial for someone accused of a crime to be able to attend their hearing and see the evidence against them.
“The propensity of successive governments to respond to every act of terrorism by further legislating away fundamental freedoms has not only failed to keep us safe, but has sought to make every citizen the eyes and ears of the state.”