Terrorists who plan mass killings to face tougher sentences under new guidance

20 October 2021, 00:57

The proposed guidance was welcomed by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab
The proposed guidance was welcomed by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Terrorists who plan attacks that could lead to many deaths may face at least 14 years in prison under new sentencing guidelines.

The Sentencing Council will on Wednesday set out proposed guidance to judges on how they should apply the new mandatory minimum jail term which became law earlier this year.

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 created a new category of "serious terrorist offences" amid concerns offenders convicted of planning attacks were receiving relatively light sentences.

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It stipulated those who are found guilty under the new category should face a minimum of 14 years' custody - with an extension period to be served on licence of between seven and 25 years - unless there are "exceptional circumstances".

In its guidance, the Sentencing Council will say it should apply when a court finds there is "a significant risk" to the public of "serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further serious terrorism offences".

It should also cover cases where the offence "was very likely to result in or contribute to (whether directly or indirectly) the deaths of at least two people" - the so-called "risk of multiple deaths condition".

The proposed guidance - which will be subject to a consultation which runs to January 11 - was welcomed by Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister.

"These proposed guidelines will support judges to pass consistent and appropriate sentences in terrorism cases," he said.

"Those who kill and maim in the name of warped and fanatical ideologies will spend longer behind bars, because public protection is our top priority."

The council's lead member for terrorism offences, Mrs Justice Maura McGowan, said: "Terrorism offences are serious criminal acts that are constantly evolving, and the law is regularly updated in line with the changing nature of the offences, requiring a new approach to sentencing.

"The council is proposing revisions to existing sentencing guidelines to reflect the new legislation and ensure that the courts have comprehensive and up-to-date guidance for dealing with these extremely serious cases."

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act was drawn up after the 2019 Fishmongers' Hall attack by Usman Khan, who killed two people after being released from prison on licence while serving a sentence for involvement in a plan to set up a terrorist training camp.