Tougher punishments for those convicted of expressing support for banned organisations or viewing terrorist material online are being proposed by the Sentencing Council.
Following changes to legislation brought in by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019, the official body, which publishes guidelines for judges, has circulated a fresh consultation on raising sentences for the most serious offences.
The act increased maximum prison sentences for a range of terrorism offences. Consequently the Sentencing Council is recommending raising “sentence levels for the most serious examples of offending, where there was no headroom [previously] … due to the statutory maximum”.
The council has in the past supported more punitive prison terms for terrorism in an era when “a terrorist act can be planned in a very short time, using readily available items as weapons, combined with online extremist material on websites which normalise terrorist activity”.
The latest changes draw a distinction between an offender in a position of authority or influence who directly invites support for a proscribed organisation and one who expresses supportive views while being reckless as to whether others are encouraged to get involved.
For those who intentionally express support for a proscribed organisation while holding a position of trust the starting point for judges imposing a prison sentence should be seven years, the new guidelines recommend.
The culpability factors for those found guilty of collecting terrorist information have been amended to include offences committed by viewing or streaming terrorist information over the internet.
For an offender who collects, makes a record of, possesses or views material that provides instruction for specific terrorist activity endangering life where harm is very likely to be caused, the judges’ starting point for sentencing those found guilty should be 10 years in custody, the guidelines propose.
Mr Justice Julian Goose, a member of the Sentencing Council, said: “Terrorism offences are extremely serious and can cover a wide range of factual circumstances, making them difficult and sensitive offences to sentence. For this reason, the council is keen to ensure that the guidelines are kept up to date and fit for purpose
“These revised guidelines will ensure consistency and transparency in the sentencing of these offences.”
The consultation runs from 22 October to 3 December. If confirmed, the revised guidelines will apply to offenders aged 18 years and above and will come into effect in early 2020.