UK moves to stop early release of terror offenders

“We will be doing everything we can to protect the public.” - -British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland
Sunday 09/02/2020
British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland outside 10 Downing Street in London, last October.           (Reuters)
Challenges ahead. British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland outside 10 Downing Street in London, last October. (Reuters)

LONDON - Following the second terrorist attack on London streets by a former offender released early from prison, the British government moved to implement emergency legislation to end the early release of terror offenders.

British Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said new legislation, expected to be introduced by February 27, would apply to current and future offenders.

The move came after Sudesh Amman, 20, was killed by police February 2, in Streatham, south London after stabbing two people in what the London Metropolitan Police described as an “Islamist-related terrorist attack.” Amman had been released from prison one week earlier after serving half his sentence for terror offences.

It was the second such attack by a former terrorist offender released from prison in three months. Usman Khan was killed November 29 after stabbing two people to death on London Bridge.

“We cannot have the situation, as we saw tragically in yesterday’s case, where an offender — a known risk to innocent members of the public — is released early by automatic process of law without any oversight by the Parole Board,” Buckland told parliament.

“’We will be doing everything we can to protect the public; that is our primary duty.”

The new law could go into effect one day before Mohammed Zahir Khan, a convicted terrorist who disseminated Islamic State propaganda, is due for automatic release under the same procedures. Five other terrorist offenders were to be freed in March, officials said.

“If the legislation is passed by February 27, we can prevent the automatic release of any further terrorist suspects who might pose a threat to the public. This is emergency legislation which we believe is vital for protecting the public,” a statement from the UK government said.

Many predicted that the legislation would face serious legal challenges from prisoners for possibly breaching the European Convention on Human Rights. It is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the European Union and to whose rules Britain remains bound by despite leaving the European Union on January 31.

British Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News the government was aware of the possibility of legal challenge but felt that it had no choice but to move ahead with the emergency legislation.

“Often in government you get a point where you have to balance the rights of different people and, in this case, it’s weighing up the rights of an individual who’s committed terrorist offences and his right to leave prison early against the rights of people to walk around Streatham or anywhere in our country free from the threat of terrorism,” he said.

The UK government has come under intense criticism for failing to stop Amman’s automatic early release from prison despite pledging to take stronger action on early release following the London Bridge attack.

The new emergency legislation would immediately halt the early release programme, ensuring that terror offenders would only be considered for release once they served at least two-thirds of their sentence and only with the explicit approval of the Parole Board.

The United Kingdom’s top counterterrorism officer, Neil Basu, welcomed the move to stop automatic early release but stressed that the government must take additional action to pursue de-radicalisation of extremist prisoners behind bars. Amman’s mother said her son had become more radicalised after serving time at high-security prison Belmarsh.

“With 3,000 or so subjects of interest currently on our radar and many convicted terrorists soon due to be released from prison, we simply cannot watch all of them, all the time,” Basu warned.