The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill 2019-20 was introduced on 11 February 2020. All stages in the House of Commons are due to take place on 12 February 2020. The Bill has been introduced in response to the terrorist attacks on London Bridge in November 2019 and in Streatham in February 2020. The offenders in each of these attacks had been released from prison automatically without the involvement of the Parole Board. The Bill would end the automatic early release of certain terrorist offenders.
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The Government has said the Bill should be fast tracked through Parliament because legislation is needed urgently to put appropriate safeguards in place before further terrorist offenders, including some due for automatic release before the end of February 2020, are released from prison.
Currently prisoners serving a standard determinate sentence are automatically released from prison at the half way point of their sentence to serve the rest of their sentence in the community on licence. Prisoners serving extended sentences imposed before 2015 may be released automatically on licence at either the two thirds or half way point. Prisoners serving sentences for offenders of particular concern may be released on licence from the halfway point at the discretion of the Parole Board.
The Bill would change release provisions so that offenders given a determinate sentence for a relevant terrorism offence do not become eligible for release until the two thirds point of the sentence. Release at the two thirds point for these offenders would not be automatic. They would be referred to the Parole Board to decide if they are safe to release on licence.
The changes would apply not only to those sentenced for the relevant offences in the future but also to those currently in custody serving sentences for these offences. This has led to some debate as to the compatibility of the Bill with the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the retrospective imposition of criminal penalties. The Government’s position is that the changes relate to the administration of the penalty, rather than its scope, and that the Bill is therefore compatible with the Convention.
The Bill does not address concerns about the management of terrorist offenders within prisons. It is not clear whether the interventions used in prisons with extremist offenders are effective. Separation centres set up for some extremist offenders have been little used.
The Government has said it intends, in the coming weeks, to introduce a further bill making provision for the sentencing and release of terrorism offenders.
The provisions of the Bill would extend and apply to England, Wales and Scotland. Counter-terrorism is a reserved matter, although prisons and sentencing (including release provisions) are devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Government states that a Legislative Consent Motion will be required from the Scottish Parliament. For detail on the territorial extent and application of the Bill see page 7 and Annex A of the Explanatory Notes.
The Bill would come into force on Royal Assent.
The Government has published Explanatory Notes. A Gov.uk page for the Bill provides links to a Factsheet, Equality Statement, European Convention on Human Rights Memorandum and an Impact Assessment. There is also a Bill page.