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Sat, 11 July 2020

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MPs back Boris Johnson's bid to rush through anti-terror law in wake of Streatham attack

MPs back Boris Johnson's bid to rush through anti-terror law in wake of Streatham attack
4 min read

MPs have backed Boris Johnson's bid to curb the early release of convicted terrorists in the wake of the Streatham attack.


MP passed the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill at second reading unopposed, amid a marathon session which has seen the Government push to get the law through all of its Commons stages in a single sitting.

The bill aims to ensure that those convicted of terror offences cannot be released early without what ministers have said will be a "thorough risk assessment" from the Parole Board, curbing automatic early release for an estimated 50 offenders already behind bars.

Number 10 had sought to stress the urgency of the clampdown in the wake of the Streatham terror attack earlier this month, which saw Sudesh Amman stab two people a week after being released halfway through his sentence. 

It has argued that the law must be passed by 27 February to prevent six terror suspects walking free from prison.

Minsitersd have said the law will not change the sentences handed down to existing offenders, but will instead "amend the release point which relates to the administration of the sentence, rather than impose any additional penalty".

Urging MPs to support the legislation, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland specifically cited the early release of Mr Amman.

"The automatic nature of his release meant there was no parole oversight and no decision as to whether or not he posed a risk to the public," the Cabinet minister said.

"No one could prevent his release. It is purely thanks to the swift intervention of our incredible police officers that he did not go on to commit even more harm before he was stopped with necessary force. The reality is that we face an unprecedented threat from terrorist offenders who are willing to commit random violence without any fear of the consequences."

In a rare show of Commons unity, the Bill also won the backing of Labour.

Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "We on these benches support the Parole Board's involvement in release decisions. And should this legislation not be passed and rushed through all of its stages in the next couple of weeks then there will be terrorist prisoners on our streets without any parole board assessment of risk...

He added: "Now that isn't to say it leaves the House in the easiest of positions, but that is the reality of the position that is before us."

But the Labour frontbencher called on ministers not to use the bill to avoid "confronting the problem" of extremism, and urged a "relentless focus on and investment" in programmes aimed at deradicalising terrorists. 

That view was echoed by former prime minister Theresa May, who backed the curbs on automatic release but warned the Government that those convicted of terror offences "will still be released at some point".

"That is why the issue of rehabilitation, the work that is done both in prison and when they are out of prison, is so important," she said.

"There have been many efforts of this over the years but as recent incidents have seen, that has not always been with success."

Lib Dem justice spokesperson Daisy Cooper - who was caught up in the 7/7 bombing in 2005 - meanwhile said it was "absolutely right" for ministers to look at beefing up the Parole Board's scrutiny of those set for early release.

But she raised concerns with the bill's bid to up the point at which offenders are first eligible for release from halfway through their sentence to two-thirds of the way through.

The Lib Dem warned: "Of course, it is the natural instinct of all of us to have bad people locked up for longer. But who would want somebody locked up for longer if there was evidence that this could in fact make them more radicalised and more dangerous at the point that they are released?" 

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