MPs push through legislation ending automatic early release for terror offenders

12 February 2020, 20:56

The scene of the Streatham terror attack / Justice Secretary Robert Buckland
The scene of the Streatham terror attack / Justice Secretary Robert Buckland. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Emergency legislation to stop terrorist offenders from being automatically released halfway through their sentences has moved closer to becoming law.

MPs passed the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill through all its Commons stages on Wednesday and it will now progress to the Lords for further scrutiny.

Ministers want to get legislation on the statute book by February 27, before the next terrorist prisoner comes up for release.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told LBC that the legislation is necessary to "keep people safe on the streets".

It follows the Streatham terror attack earlier this month, when Sudesh Amman stabbed two bystanders with a knife he had grabbed from a shop.

The 20-year-old was jailed in December 2018 for possessing and distributing terrorist documents but had been freed midway through his sentence less than a fortnight earlier.

Police guard the scene of November's London Bridge terror attack
Police guard the scene of November's London Bridge terror attack. Picture: PA

It was the second attack in three months to be carried out by a convicted terrorist, after Usman Khan stabbed and killed two people at Fishmongers' Hall near London Bridge in November.

He had been released nearly a year earlier, halfway through a 16-year jail sentence.

The Government has less control over the timetable in the House of Lords but it expects the legislation to be given a swift passage.

Moving the Bill at second reading, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told MPs: "Due to the nature of the emergency legislation, I've proposed that the provisions cover both England, Wales and Scotland and the justification for this emergency retrospective legislation, out of the ordinary though I accept it is, is to prevent the automatic release of terrorist offenders in the coming weeks and months.

"Given the risk that this cohort has shown already that they pose to the public, it's vital that we pass this legislation rapidly before any more terrorists are automatically released from custody at the halfway point and therefore we're aiming for this legislation to receive royal assent before the end of the month and with the support of this House I am confident that we can do this."

For Labour, shadow security minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "We on these benches support the Parole Board involvement in release decisions and should this legislation not be passed and rushed through all its stages in the next couple of weeks, then there will be terrorist prisoners on our streets without any Parole Board assessment of risk or dangerousness.

"Now that isn't to say that it leaves the House in the easiest of positions, but that is the reality of the position that is before us.

"I do say to ministers today that what is going to be needed for this to be durable and workable is that it doesn't amount to simply a delay confronting the problem, but there is a relentless focus on and investment in the most effective of deradicalisation programmes in our prisons."

The plans, which will affect around 50 prisoners, aim to make sure terrorist offenders serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are considered eligible for release, rather than the current halfway mark.

Before being freed they would need to be reviewed by a panel of specialist judges and psychiatrists at the Parole Board.