Judges asked to consider tougher penalties for lower-level terror crimes
The first ever comprehensive terror sentencing guidance has been published to help English and Welsh courts stay on top of the rapidly evolving threat from extremism.
Lower-level terror offences could face tougher punishments under new Sentencing Council guidelines released on Wednesday (March 28).
Crimes including preparing for terror attacks, sharing extremist material, attempting to cause an explosion or supporting banned organisations are all covered by the guidance, which replaces previous advice from the Court of Appeal in 2016.
Deliberate use of encrypted communications will now also be considered as an aggravating factor.
The Sentencing Council claims the new guidelines are necessary because many judges rarely get to deal with these offences.
Lord Justice Treacy, chair of the Sentencing Council, said: “Terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts. Offending can include an extremist cell plotting a deadly attack on the public, someone trying to make a bomb or another recruiting for a terrorist organisation.
“As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way our society operates.
“These threats have evolved and we are ensuring that courts have comprehensive guidance to help them sentence offenders appropriately so they are properly punished and their activities are disrupted.”
Work on the new guidelines had already begun before the five terror attacks that hit England and Wales last year.
The Sentencing Council recognised that the terror threat has since changed dramatically, with offenders increasingly using knives and other less sophisticated methods to inflict casualties.
The past ‘guidance’, based on a 2016 Court of Appeal verdict on preparation of terrorist acts, was based on cases involving more complex methods than the majority of attacks seen last year.
The updated document states that courts should consider giving the most serious offenders life imprisonment with a minimum 35-year-term as a starting point.
These sentences could reach as high as life with a minimum of 40 years in custody, while judges are asked to consider giving less serious offenders sentences of between ten and 20 years.
Those who fall in the lowest brackets for culpability and potential harm could spend three years in prison.
The tougher penalties for lower-level offences are intended to recognise that terrorist attacks can now be planned in very short periods of time, making them more seriously than they have been in the past.
The new guidance also adds high level community orders as an option for less serious offences, as the Council believes community-based interventions may be more appropriate than short prison terms.
It will apply to any offender aged 18 or older who is sentenced after April 27, 2018.