New sentencing guidelines for terrorism offences published
New sentencing guidelines for terrorism offences have been published today, marking the first time that comprehensive guidance has been produced for courts in England and Wales. The guidelines have been introduced to deal with the changing nature of terrorist offending and to ensure that courts have the guidance they need to deal with these serious and difficult cases, punishing offenders and disrupting their activities.
Offending is extremely varied but also low in volume relative to other offences, so individual judges do not deal with them on a frequent basis. This makes the introduction of guidelines particularly useful in assisting judges to reach appropriate sentences and will lead to greater transparency and consistency in the sentencing of these cases.
The guidelines cover a wide range of terrorism offences, including 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. The guidelines do not directly cover offences where death or injury are caused by acts of terrorism since these would be charged as murder or assault, but guidance is included to assist those sentencing such offences where they have a terrorist connection.
Up until now, courts have had limited guidance on the sentencing of these offences, mainly comprising guidance issued by the Court of Appeal in 2016 in relation to sentencing for the preparation of terrorist acts. This guidance has worked effectively for sentencing preparation offences up until now, but the changing nature of offending requires that the guidance be reconsidered, and that a comprehensive package of guidelines be produced to cover a wider number of offences.
The guidelines reflect the developing nature of the terrorist threat. Some of the acts of terrorism seen in recent times have involved far less sophisticated methods than has previously been the case. Attacks in 2017 involved motor vehicles and knives, which mark a change from the more sophisticated kinds of cases that were considered by the Court of Appeal when it produced its guidance for courts. As well as this, the guideline reflects increasing concern about the availability of extremist material online which can lead to people becoming self-radicalised.
In terms of the impact on sentencing levels, it is likely that in relation to some offences, such as the offences of preparing terrorist acts and building explosive devices, there will be increases in sentence for lower level offences. These are the kinds of situations where preparations might not be as well developed or an offender may be offering a small amount of assistance to others. The Council decided that, when considering these actions in the current climate, where a terrorist act could be planned in a very short time period, using readily available items such as vehicles as weapons, combined with online extremist material providing encouragement and inspiration, these lower-level offences are more serious than they have previously been perceived.
The Council had already started work started on developing these guidelines before the terrorist attacks that took place in 2017, but due to the changing nature of the terrorist threat and the increasing need for comprehensive guidelines, production of the guidelines was accelerated.
Sentencing Council Chairman Lord Justice Treacy said: “Terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts. Offending can include an extremist cell plotting a deadly attack on the public, someone trying to make a bomb or another recruiting for a terrorist organisation. As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way our society operates. These threats have evolved and we are ensuring that courts have comprehensive guidance to help them sentence offenders appropriately so they are properly punished and their activities are disrupted.”
The guidelines were subject to a public consultation and following publication today they will come into force in courts on 27 April 2018.
The guidelines can be accessed on the Council’s website.