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United Kingdom: Sentences for Terrorism-Related Offenses May Be Lengthened


With almost half a century of legislative experience, the United Kingdom is renowned for its robust anti-terrorism laws. The operation of these laws is reviewed on an annual basis by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. (The Independent Reviewer’s Role, INDEPENDENT REVIEWER OF TERRORISM LEGISLATION (last visited Sept. 6, 2017).)

In a recent interview with the Press Association, the Independent Reviewer, Max Hill, was reported as stating that given the number and severity of recent attacks in the UK the current maximum sentence for certain offenses may be too lenient. He stated that “[w]ith the benefit of experience and hindsight it may be the case that some offences have insufficient discretionary maximum sentences, which should be reviewed.” (Maximum Terror Prison Sentences ‘May Be Too Low,’ BBC NEWS (Sept. 2, 2017).)

Of particular concern, according to Hill, are the offenses of failing to provide information to the police if a person knows or believes the information might be of material assistance to:

  • prevent the commission of an act of terrorism or
  • secure the arrest, prosecution, or conviction of a person in the UK for a terrorism offense. (Terrorism Act 2000, c. 11, § 38B, LEGISLATION.GOV.UK.)

The current maximum penalty upon conviction for this offense is up to five years of imprisonment and a fine. Hill has stated that this penalty should be reviewed to assess whether it is sufficient. (Maximum Terror Prison Sentences ‘May Be Too Low’, supra.)

Review of ‘Unduly Lenient’ Sentences

While Hill has suggested the need for an increased penalty, the laws of England and Wales allow the Attorney General independently, as well as upon referral from members of the public, to challenge punishments for a number of criminal and terrorism offenses under the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme. Under this plan, members of the public can request that the Attorney General review a case to see if the sentence is “unduly lenient.” If the Attorney General believes that the sentence is unduly lenient, he   may refer the case within 28 days of the original sentencing to the Court of Appeal for review. (Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, c. 6, § 155, LEGISLATION.GOV.UK.)

The reasons the Attorney General may consider a sentence as unduly lenient are if that sentence:   

  • blunts the deterrent effect of the criminal law;
  • causes outrage to the victim;
  • is demoralizing to the police;
  • causes injustice to those who were appropriately sentenced;
  • undermines public confidence in the administration of justice and the authority of the courts;
  • may cause public danger; or
  • hinders development of a rational sentencing policy by the Court of Appeal. (House of Commons Library, Review of Unduly Lenient Sentences, Briefing Paper No. 00512 (June 30, 2017), at 4, Parliament website.)

Recently, in the wake of some individuals convicted of terrorism offenses receiving sentences that were considered by many to be too lenient and facing the inability to review them, the Justice Minister, Dominic Raab, added a number of additional terrorism offenses to the Scheme to enable the Court of Appeal to review additional cases, noting that the aim was to “reinforce our focus on deterring people who help radicalise terrorists, and punishing those who willfully turn a blind eye to terrorist activity.” (Owen Bowcott, Law to Be Changed so Terror Offenders’ Jail Terms Can Be Lengthened, GUARDIAN (London) (July 14, 2017).)