Policing & Terrorism-related Legislation
|Law||Type of Offence||Remarks|
|Terrorism Act 2006||While at Bill stage, this legislation was criticised for several provisions, most notably (i) an extension of detention without charge from 14 days to 3 months (later reduced to 28 days after a Commons defeat), (ii) a new offence of ‘glorification’ – criminalising expression of support for armed resistance to any state or occupation if this was with the ‘intention’ of inciting acts of terror (iii) plans to give police powers to temporarily close down places of worship ‘being used by extremists’ (later withdrawn by Government).||For full wording of the Terrorism Act 2006, click here For an analysis of the proposals and various objections to the proposals for
closure orders on places of worship – click here
|Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill (Committee Stage June 2005)||On the face of it, there should be little objection to a new law that criminalizes incitement to hatred on religious grounds. Hatred – intimidation and verbal violence – can never be condoned, particularly when the victim is a disadvantaged community. Though the Bill was supported by Government, it was opposed by Lib Dem, and some sections of the Church and litterati, and failed to pass Parliament in February 2006.||For a discussion on the pros and cons of the bill – click here Draft Bill|
|Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (PTA)||The PTA allows for allows for control orders to be made against any suspected terrorist, whether a UK national or a non-UK national, or whether the terrorist activity is international or domestic. The Home Secretary must normally apply to the courts to impose a control order based on an assessment of the intelligence information. If the court allows the order to be made, the case will be automatically referred to the court for a judicial review of the decision.||Under a control order, suspects can have indefinite restrictions placed upon
their movements, from tagging to effective house arrest, as well as upon their associations and work. They can be prohibited from using communications services, or be forced to surrender their passports.
Failure to adhere to such restrictions can result in a fine or
|Anti-Terrorism, Crime & Security Act 2001 (ATCSA)||indefinitely detain without charge a foreign terrorist suspect if the individual cannot be deported for other legal reasons.||In December 2004, the Law Lords ruled that indefinite detention (Section 23 of ATCSA) violated human rights law. In March 2005, the Government repealed the Part 4 powers under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and replaced them with a system of control orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (see below). Stop & Search under S.44 of ATCSA has disproportionately impacted the Muslim community. see Salaam ‘Inventory of Arrests’|
|Terrorism Act 2000||It is a criminal offence not to disclose to the police, as soon as reasonably practicable, any information a person knows or believes might be of material assistance in: (i) preventing the commission of an act of terrorism anywhere in the world, and (ii) securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of a person in the UK, for an offence involving the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.The Act also outlaws certain national and international organisations described as “terrorist” groups, making it illegal for them to operate in the UK. Under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 the police can stop and search without any suspicion in an ‘authorised’ area.||21 Groups were proscribed in March 2001 a further four were proscribed in October 2002 and a following 15 groups were proscribed on 14 October 2005. List of proscribed bodiesThe civil
Rights group Liberty has said that S.44 powers allowed police officers to act without evidence of wrong-doing. BBC research on Police stop and search (October 200
Implications for Mosques
On 6th October 2005 the Home Secretary issued a seven-page consultation paper “to tackle the issue of places of worship that are being used to forment extremism”. The closing date for responses is 11th November 2005 – it is important that mosque working committees and imams appreciate the implications of the proposals.
Though the Home Secretary uses the term ‘places of worship’ there is little doubt that the focus is on mosques in the UK. The paper notes, for example, “this consultation is linked to initiatives with the Muslim and other faith communities on radicalization and the role of places of worship as a resource for the whole community and seeks views on how the Government and communities can work together to prevent extremism” (para 4).
Salient Features of the proposed legislation
1. A new law allowing the Police to go to court for the issue of a REQUIREMENT ORDER to persons ‘controlling’ a mosque – i.e. the trustees if it is a registered charity, or the registered owner of the premises – to stop activities deemed ‘terrorist’:
The Rt Revd Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, has strongly criticised the Home Office proposals:
Of course I support the principle of dealing with extremist activity, but targeting places of worship under blanket provisions is excessive and disproportionate. There are about 40,000 churches in Britain of which 16,000 are in the Church of England, and there has never been any suggestion of behaviour related to terrorism in any of them. There seems to be only one case in the public domain, Finsbury Park mosque, where any potential link between a place of worship and terrorist activity has been suggested. Even in that case, the problem was resolved by the management committee within the present law. Other places of gathering are far more likely than places of worship to be used for the purposes the government has in mind and one must question why places of worship have been singled out. Public access to Church of England churches has for long been guaranteed by legislation, giving all members of the public the right to enter during times of public worship. To legislate for restrictions on this right would raise significant issues of freedom of worship. When responding to the Home Office consultation we shall make these points robustly and ask why places of worship are being singled out when other buildings have been more significantly linked with the activity of terrorists. Source: Christianity Today, 14th October 2005
Top police officers have criticised plans to allow the shutting down of places of worship such as mosques suspected of inciting extremism. In their response to proposals to give courts the power to close such premises, police warned there were better ways to deal with the problem. Assistant Chief Constable Rob Beckley of the Association of Chief Police Officers said it was a “blunt tool”. “This proposal might be seen as an attack on religion,” he said. Source: BBC, 12th December 2005
A move to be opposed
There has never been any earlier call for special powers to regulate activities in places of worship. It is unthinkable for a synagogue not to host discussions on politics, history and culture. Restrictions have never been imposed on Catholic churches during the Northern Ireland troubles, or on Sikh gurdwaras affiliated to Akali Dal, or Croatian and Serbian Churches during the Balkan crisis. Steps have never been taken to limit extremist political expression, for example in the centres managed by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Hindu supremacist movement. The Home Office’s proposals will be opposed by an alliance of civil rights groups and Muslim community bodies because
- The way to obtain cooperation of mosque ‘controllers’ is through friendship and cooperation, not the spectre of criminalisation. There are numerous laws already in place to nip criminal conspiracy and a law specifically for mosques is alienating and discriminatory.
- a very particlar episode – the Finsbury Park Mosque and its take-over by Abu Hamza – is being used to configure general and far-reaching laws. This is a disproportionate response.
- it undermines the authority of mosque leadership structures to manage mosque affairs based on their judgement and discretion, creating a climate for witch hunts and activities of informers
- in the aftermath of the July 2005 bombings, mosques are being mis-identified and stereotyped as incubators of extremism, while the social reality is that they serve as centres of moderation; the bombers were indoctrinated by a sub-culture outside the mosque; the notion of influential ‘back-door’ mosques is a figment of the imagination
- it is yet another example of the State exercise power through control orders – thus bypassing safe-guards available through trial by judge and jury. Moreover there are existing grounds to protect misuse of places of worship – for example the Ecclesiastical Places Act
- finally, what constitutes ‘formenting extremism’ remains a matter of ambiguity and contestation: is the natural impulse to identify with those fighting oppression and occupation deemed an ‘extremist act’? Is a sermon extolling shariah law and calling for its application in Muslim lands to be criminalised?
The Finsbury Park Mosque & Abu Hamza – a specific episode that cannot not be the basis for law-making
The Finsbury Park Mosque on St. Thomas’s Road, Finsbury Park was among London’s first purpose built mosques when it was opened in 1993. It was managed by a registered charity but due to disagreements amongst the trustees, the institution became poorly managed. In the resulting vacuum, one Abu Hamza – a disabled Afghan war veteran – through intimidation and strong-arm tactics was able to take over the building in 1996, creating no-go zones for the trustees and physically ejecting them form the building. Abu Hamza collected around him supporters, including those dabbling in petty crimes and forgeries. The trustees pressed the Charity Commissioners to intervene but action became protracted over the years.
Legal moves failed to dislodge Hamza and his band. According to one trustee, Mufti Barkatulla, “we tried to get him arrested but he is never apprehended. I asked Scotland Yard what they were doing. There was suspicion the police had another agenda” .Images of Abu Hamza were widely used by the media to shape public opinion and tar Muslims as a whole. The mosque was subject to a dramatic 2 am raid in January 2003. The Police did not take action when Abu Hamza and supporters commenced conducting prayers on the street outside. The mosque reverted to legitimate management in April 2004.
Why was the Finsbury Park Mosque allowed to fester from 1996 to 2004?
1. The Financial Times, 20th January 2005
“Officials see the prevention of attacks and the use of robust means to make it known to radicals they are being watched as more important than the preservation of harmonious relations with the Muslim community”.
This is a chilling revelation – the ‘robust means’ presumably refers to a host of stratagems from arrests under the anti-terrorism laws to use of the media for scare-mongering. Muslims in Britain have had to bear the cost of such a policing policy – its demonisation in the media and life in a climate of suspicion. The robust means were well-exemplified in the raid on the Finsbury Park mosque on 19th January 2003, a few days following the similarly well-publicised Ricin scare: “about 150 Metropolitan police officers, many in body armour and supported by a helicopter and specialist firearms teams in surrounding streets, used a battering ram as they stormed the building at around 2 am” (from media coverage of the event). As was noted by a correspondent in The Guardian, “it [the raid] would appear to have been designed to send a particular signal to the Muslim communities in the UK, and to assure the host community that ‘something was being done’ domestically in the war on terrorism”.
2. The Guardian, 26th August 2005
“The ‘covenant of security’ between the British authorities and leaders of Muslim communities was a well-understood compromise. There would be high levels of toleration in exchange for self-policing.. Not least, the “covenant of security” is favoured by most of the security services – it encourages local communities to join the intelligence effort and allows interesting individuals to be monitored more easily. US authorities were exasperated at the way that Abu Hamza was allowed to preach to a large crowd of radical followers every Friday outside the Finsbury Park mosque. But for a British spook, this kind of weekly photo opportunity is worth its weight in gold, and probably far harder to find with Abu Hamza now in custody, pending extradition to the US”.