New sentencing guidelines for terrorism offences proposed

Today, the Sentencing Council has published its proposals for how those convicted of terrorism offences in England and Wales should be sentenced.

In the first comprehensive guidance that has been produced for courts, the Council has set out proposed sentencing guidelines for dealing with offenders guilty of a wide range of terrorism offences. These include the preparation of terrorist attacks, causing or attempting to cause an explosion, collecting or sharing extremist material, raising funds for terrorism, glorifying terrorist acts, failing to disclose information about terrorist acts and joining or supporting a banned organisation.

There is currently limited guidance for courts on the sentencing of these offences. They are, however, extremely varied in nature. The introduction of guidelines will therefore be particularly useful in assisting judges to reach appropriate sentences and lead to greater transparency and consistency in the sentencing of these very serious and difficult cases. 

They will replace existing guidance[1] issued by the Court of Appeal last year in relation to sentencing for the preparation of terrorist acts. While this guidance is of great help to judges dealing with this offence, the changing nature of offending means that updated guidance is required and that it is broadened into a comprehensive package of guidelines to cover a wider number of offences.

Work started on developing these guidelines last year before the terrorist attacks that took place earlier this year.  Given the developing nature of the terrorist threat and the increasing need for the courts to have sentencing guidelines available to them, the Council took the decision to accelerate the production of these guidelines this year.

Some of these latest acts of terrorism have involved far less sophisticated methods than have been used previously. Terrorists have, for example, used motor vehicles or knives in attacks, and such methods mark a change from the more sophisticated types of cases that were considered by the Court of Appeal when putting together its guidance. In addition, there has been growing concern about the availability of extremist material online, which can lead to people becoming self-radicalised.

As a result of such changes in offending, for the offence of the preparation of terrorist acts, the Council is proposing that sentence lengths be increased for lower level offences, such as those where preparations might not be well developed or an offender may be offering a small amount of assistance to others. The Council decided that, in the current climate where a terrorist act could be planned in a very short time using readily available items such as vehicles and knives as weapons, combined with online extremist material that normalises terrorist activity and provide encouragement, these offences are more serious than they have previously been perceived.

Sentencing Council chairman 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. Our proposed guidelines are now subject to a public consultation to which anyone can respond.”

The consultation on the guidelines will last six weeks. It seeks views on a variety of issues, such as the sentences that should be passed for terrorist offences and the approach taken to structuring the draft guidelines.

Following the consultation, a final set of guidelines will be produced, which will come into force in courts in spring 2018.

[1] R v Kahar & Others