10:12, February 04 273 0 theguardian.com

2020-02-04 10:12:04
UK may bypass human rights convention to rush through terror laws

Britain could temporarily separate itself from the European convention of human rights in order to push through emergency laws on sentencing for terrorists in the wake of the London Bridge and Streatham attacks.

Ministers want to ban convicted terrorists from being automatically released halfway through their prison term as soon as possible following Sunday’s incident in south London. It was the second case in just over two months of a freed prisoner committing further terror offences.

On Tuesday, a government spokesman did not rule out derogating from the European convention on human rights (ECHR) to try to put the new laws in place.

It has been suggested by legal experts the ECHR could in effect block the government’s plan because it contains rulings on the application of retrospective legislation and terrorists could appeal against any changes to their sentences.

The possible move could be the first major test of Britain’s relationship with Europe’s legal institutions on human rights following Brexit, and comes before a review the Conservative party has said it wants to carry out into the country’s human rights laws.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said the government was going to table legislation so terrorists serve two-thirds of their sentences before being considered for release because it was the “right thing to do”.

On whether the country derogates from the ECHR, he said: “We are going to ensure that we will bring forward the necessary legislation to protect the public because that is the right thing to do.”

Asked again if the government would deviate from ECHR rulings to bring in the fast-tracked laws, he said: “As the justice secretary said, we believe that we can bring forward this legislation and we are committed to doing so.”

In his only head-on acknowledgement of the organisation’s role in UK law, he said: “We are signatories to the ECHR.”

Last month, Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, gave a far stronger commitment to the ECHR when he was asked in the Commons. He said the UK would never withdraw from the conventon under any circumstances; however, his name is often cited among those likely to lose their position in the expected cabinet reshuffle.

Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, is among a number of legal experts who have concerns that the new emergency laws are being drawn up by a panicked government and may not be watertight.

Existing rules on the automatic release date of terrorist prisoners will not change until the law is brought in, which means the government will not be able to keep people in custody in the interim.

Those understood to be due for release soon include Jamshed Javeed, who was jailed for six years for trying to join Isis in Syria, and Mohammed Ghani, jailed for threatening to kill a police officer.

The spokesman referred to an extensive review of the monitoring of terrorists who are released following the London Bridge attack and control orders could be used, which include electronic and internet bans.

The UK can choose to depart from the ECHR in limited circumstances, specifically in times of emergency, war or “threat to life of the nation”.

The UK derogated from article 5 of the ECHR, the right to liberty and security, during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.