19:06, October 11 320 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-11 19:06:03
Sentencing Council urges tougher jail terms for terrorist plotters

Terrorist plotters are likely to be imprisoned for longer terms under new sentencing guidelines drafted in response to the surge in attacks this year.

In its first comprehensive review of terrorist offences, the judicial body which promotes consistency across the courts has recommended tougher punishments, particularly for those convicted of preparing acts of violence.

The consultation, published by the Sentencing Council, suggests that using social media to spread terror messages and encrypted communications to avoid detection should both count as aggravating factors in the severity of any offence.

The new guidelines are consistent with the existing maximum sentence of life with a minimum term of 40 years, but the proposals are likely to result in increased punishments for cases at the lower end of the scale.

The main change applies to offences under section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006, which covers the preparation of terrorism.

The Sentencing Council draft guidelines call for a sentencing range for the lowest-level crimes of between three to six years, compared with 21 months to five years under the existing guidance.

Many of the offences under review come before the courts in such low volumes that it is difficult to establish an accurate picture of current sentencing practices.

The offences covered include sections of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 as well as more recent anti-terror legislation. Terror attacks where deaths occur are charged as murder.

Given the heightened terrorist threat, the Sentencing Council said, it decided to “accelerate” production of its guidelines. They will replace existing guidance issued by the court of appeal last year.

“These latest acts of terrorism have involved far less sophisticated methods, many using motor vehicles, or knives, with devastating effects,” the Council notes. The availability of extremist material online had led to people becoming self-radicalised.

“When considering these actions in the current climate, where a terrorist act could be planned in a very short time using readily available items as weapons,” the Council says, and “...where acts of terrorism can be committed by many rather than a few highly-organised individuals, these offences are more serious than they have previously been perceived.”

Among factors which might reduce the culpability of an offender, it is suggested, is where someone has “engaged in very limited preparation of terrorist activity” or provided only “limited help, assistance or encouragement”.

The chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Treacy, said: “We want to ensure that courts have comprehensive guidance for dealing with these extremely serious cases. Offences vary greatly and could include someone who tries to make a bomb, another who urges others to join a terrorist organisation or a group plotting a murderous attack on the public.

“Our proposed guidelines set out a clear approach to dealing with this wide range of offences to ensure appropriate sentences are passed to punish offenders and disrupt their activities.”

Responding to the proposals, the justice minister Dominic Raab said: “Having extended the scheme for appealing unduly lenient sentences to those who radicalise individuals or turn a blind eye to terrorism, these new guidelines will help ensure we have the most rigorous and robust sentencing in terrorism cases.”

The Sentencing Council is independent of the Ministry of Justice. It was set up to promote greater transparency and consistency in sentencing. Its consultation on the draft guidelines will last six weeks; the guidelines will come into force early in 2018.