Why Aren’t Judges Protecting Us from Terrorists?


Blogging about the law is not really my remit – not least because my fellow blogger here at Standpoint, Joshua Rozenberg, is the resident expert. That said, I couldn’t help but comment on the news from yesterday’s Sunday Times that about thirty ‘high risk’ terrorist suspects are due for release soon. I’ve long been opposed to our sentencing guidelines which, it seems to me, impose only the weakest of tariffs for some quite horrendous crimes – but that’s a different topic for a different day.

For now, the issue must be why we’re releasing terrorists who adopt an ideological hatred of our country and its people. These are not individuals engaged in crimes of opportunity where they just happened to chance upon an open door. These are men who believe they have divine sanction to launch terrorist attacks against this country.

One of those due for release is Andrew Rowe who was convicted in 2005 on terrorism charges. The police described him as an ‘international warrior’ who spent much of the previous decade travelling the world to wage jihad. His trial revealed visits to trouble spots including Bosnia and South Asia (where it is believed he travelled to Kashmir). The BBC reports

The countries he visited – Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan – the people he met and the methods he used to avoid detection all bear the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda operative, police believe.

Rowe was originally sentenced to 15 years although, on appeal that was reduced to 10. He is now approaching his release date having served half of the reduced sentence. Yet, why should we even contemplate releasing men like Rowe whose history demonstrates a sustained commitment to global jihad?

One of the most powerful tools the judiciary have to protect the public is through the use of indeterminate sentences. The Prison Service gives an excellent overview of how this works:

Unlike a prisoner with a determinate sentence who must be released at the end of that sentence, those sentenced to life imprisonment or an indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) have no automatic right to be released. Instead, such prisoners must serve a minimum period of imprisonment to meet the needs of retribution and deterrence. This punitive period is announced by the trial judge in open court and is known commonly as the “tariff” period.

No indeterminate sentence prisoner can expect to be released before they have served the tariff period in full. However, release on expiry of the tariff period is not automatic. Release will only take place once this period has been served and the Parole Board is satisfied that the risk of harm the prisoner poses to the public is acceptable. This means that indeterminate sentence prisoners could remain in prison for many more years on preventative grounds after they have served the punitive period of imprisonment set by the trial judge. A release direction can only be made if the Parole Board is satisfied that the risk of harm the offender poses to the public is acceptable.

This strikes me as the most sensible way of dealing with terrorist suspects whose crimes are invested with huge ideological commitment. The judiciary have a duty to protect us from them, so why aren’t they using all the powers at their disposal?

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