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04 February 2020

PRT comment: Responding to the threat of terrorism

Responding to the proposed introduction of emergency legislation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Public concern over apparently random attacks carried out by people who have served time in prison for terrorist offences is completely understandable—as is the government’s desire to respond. But we saw with the hurried implementation of an election promise to increase prison time for people convicted of certain sexual and violent offences, that parliamentary scrutiny, at least in the Commons, was negligible. A government with a big majority has a special duty to proceed with caution.

“Terrorism has always posed a very particular set of challenges for criminal justice systems. There are examples from history both in this country and overseas where poorly thought through or disproportionate reactions are likely to have made things worse rather than better in the long run. Unfair treatment or disproportionate punishment are both effective recruiting sergeants.

“So politicians should be very wary of creating expectations that no civilised system of justice can deliver. Risk cannot be completely eliminated and our powers of prediction are always imperfect. Prison has its place but it cannot become a means to protect indefinitely.”