The Government should consider allowing suspected terrorists to apply for bail, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said yesterday.
David Anderson QC said it was hard to see why everyone arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 must be denied the chance of bail.
While releasing some terrorist suspects on bail would be “unthinkable”, it should be considered “so that peripheral players who pose no risk to public safety need not be kept in detention, and a charging decision would not have to be reached within 14 days”, he said.
Mr Anderson said bail was already available to suspected terrorists in immigration cases and to those arrested on suspicion of offences under the Terrorism Act 2006.
“There are of course terrorist suspects for whom the grant of bail would be unthinkable; but the same is true of many suspects arrested under Pace (Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984),” he said.
“Suspected murderers and rapists enjoy the presumption of bail, even if they are not likely in practice to be granted it.
“The need to place suspected terrorists in a separate category is not evident.”
He added: “There are other terrorist suspects, arrested under section 41, whose suspected criminality may be of an altogether lesser order, and who could realistically be considered for bail.
“The grant of bail might indeed in some cases be advantageous to the police as well as to such suspects, for it would stop the clock on the period of detention and enable interviews to be postponed until other evidence had been retrieved, translated and assessed.”
Writing in his annual report, Mr Anderson added that counter-terrorism law in the UK was “bitty, messy and hard for even its practitioners to comprehend as a whole”, adding that at times it “gives excessive weight to the idea that terrorism is different”.
The law risks “losing sight of the principle that terrorism is above all crime, and that special laws to deal with it need to be justified by the peculiar nature of the crime”, he said. “Elements of it have been conceived and applied with excessive enthusiasm.”
Mr Anderson said changes to terror laws in recent years, including reducing the limit for pre-charge detention to 14 from 28 days, amounted to “a cautious rebalancing in favour of liberty”.
“In my judgment they do not materially increase the risk from terrorism,” he said.
Outlining 22 recommendations for changes, Mr Anderson said that, while the risk posed by al-Qaida-related terrorism in the UK remains real, it “should not be overstated”.
He said the victims of the London bombings in 2005 “remain the only people ever to have been killed by al-Qaida-related terrorism in the UK”.
Mr Anderson also called for the rules around banned organisations to be eased.
“Groups should only remain proscribed when they are currently involved in terrorism, or taking steps to become involved, and when banning them can be of real utility in protecting the public from terrorism,” he said.
He suggested that proscriptions should be limited to two years, with the Home Secretary having to apply to Parliament for an extension after that period.
Mr Anderson called for a review of stop and search powers under schedule 7, which enables police to stop and question travellers at UK ports and airports without needing reasonable suspicion to believe they are engaged in any acts of terrorism.
The powers have been criticised for being too broad, overused and leaving innocent people feeling humiliated and criminalised.
There should be a public consultation and review, as well as the release of as much information as possible about its use, Mr Anderson said.
He added: “The threat from both al-Qaida-related and Northern Ireland-related terrorism is a real one. To meet it we have some of the most extensive and effective counter-terrorism laws in the world.
“All the more need to keep them under review so that they impinge no further than is necessary on individual liberty.”