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20 October 2021

Plans to revise four sentencing guidelines for terrorism offences in England and Wales to reflect changes brought in by the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021, were published for consultation today by the Sentencing Council.

The consultation proposes changes to the guidelines below, to bring them in line with the new legislation:

The Council is seeking views on the draft guidelines from judges, magistrates and others with an interest in this area. The consultation applies to adult offenders and will run from 20 October 2021 to 11 January 2022.

Revisions being proposed by the Council to the Preparation of terrorist acts and Explosive substances (terrorism only) guidelines include:

  • new guidance for judges sentencing offenders who meet the criteria for a ‘serious terrorism sentence’. This is a new type of sentence that carries a minimum penalty of 14 years’ custody unless exceptional circumstances apply;
  • new guidance and principles for judges to follow when considering whether there may be exceptional circumstances that justify a departure from that sentence.

The Council is also seeking to make further revisions to the Preparation of terrorist acts and Explosive substances (terrorism only) guidelines, to provide additional guidance to assist judges sentencing cases which include the involvement of law enforcement authorities through surveillance or infiltration.

This guidance proposes that the court should identify the category of culpability as if the law enforcement officer was a genuine conspirator. Harm should be based on the harm that the offender intended and the viability of the plan.

In addition, the sentencing guidelines for the offences of membership or support for a proscribed organisation include proposed increased sentence levels of up to 13 years to reflect the new, higher statutory maximum sentences provided for under the 2021 Act.

Council member lead 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 court must impose a serious terrorism sentence where the criteria are met unless it is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances which relate to the offence or to the offender and justify not doing so. Where the criteria are not met or there are exceptional circumstances, the court can impose an alternative sentence.

Notes to Editors

  1. In March 2018, the Sentencing Council published the first package of terrorism sentencing guidelines. They came into force on 27 April 2018.
  2. In October 2019, the Council published a consultation paper seeking views on amendments to some of the guidelines to reflect changes brought in by the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019.
  3. In May 2020, the Counter–Terrorism and Sentencing Bill was introduced. At the end of April 2021, the Bill received Royal Assent and subsequently came into force.
  4. The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 introduced a new serious terrorism sentence for serious terrorism offences, with a minimum sentence of 14 years’ custody and an extension period to be served on licence (between seven and 25 years).

The sentence applies where:

  • the court is of the opinion that there is a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission by the offender of further serious terrorism offences or other specified offences;
  • the court does not impose a sentence of custody for life; and
  • the serious terrorism offence or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it was very likely to result in or contribute to (whether directly or indirectly) the deaths of at least two people as a result of an act of terrorism (the “risk of multiple deaths condition”).
  1. It is proposed that the 2019 revised guidelines be published in 2022 alongside the revisions made under this consultation process.
  2. All new sentencing guidelines follow more recent Council guideline models and include a stepped approach to sentencing
  3. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
  4. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation.
  5. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
  6. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email