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Counter Terrorism measures in the UK Essay

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2021


Terrorism is the exact opposite of human rights, and tackling terrorism successfully, over the long term, requires more than security measures. The United Kingdom faces a continuing threat from extremists who believe they can advance their aims by committing acts of terrorism. Consequent to the attempted terrorism related car bomb attacks in June 2007, in central London and at Glasgow Airport, there is significant changes to counter terrorism control structure in the UK. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 25 July ‘Statement on Security’ is within the wider context of the response of multi-faceted Counter Terrorism challenges. It is proposed to bring structural changes in the permitted period of pre-charge detention, under judicial supervision, and amend Terrorism Act 2006, and introduce a new counterterrorism bill by the end of 2007.[ Statement on security, 25 July 2007 http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page12675.asp ] Experience suggest that human right abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism serve to fuel terrorism, and not to reduce it, and any fresh attempt made should not violate human rights.


Terrorist threat is ever changing, it is innovative and ingenious, and over the last decade the world has witnessed brutal attacks by terrorists who seek to disrupt our way of life, and to harm the public. The June 2007 bombing attempts and the background evidence on those recently brought before the courts on terrorism related charges show that the UK faces potential terrorist threats from suspects or perpetrators with a broad spectrum of individual backgrounds. Terrorist attacks in the UK are a real and serious danger, and crowded places feature in the attack plans of terrorist organisations, because these locations have limited protective security measures. It is recognized that UK’s counter-terrorism (CT) need more central drive, cohesion, integration and accountability and, hence a move to create a Government departmental structure more akin to that found in other EU states has been initiated by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The UK counter-terrorism strategies and associated programmes include “Preventing Violent Extremism: Winning Hearts and Minds” and the “Security Counter-Terrorism Science Innovation Strategy 2007” (Home Office, 2006)

Major points brought out in the Statement on Security by Prime Minister
  • Since 1997, the government has given the police new resources and Parliament has provided new legal powers to arrest and try terrorists.
  • Overall investment to strengthen the counter terrorist capability of the police and security service have doubled since September 11.
  • In 2007 alone in nine cases a total of 30 individuals have been convicted. Overall 4000 foreign prisoners are likely to be deported this year
  • The forthcoming Counter Terrorism Bill will propose additional penalties for terrorists charged with other criminal offences.

Counter terrorism issue and strategy

Since early 2003, the United Kingdom has had a long-term strategy for countering international terrorism, and the strategy is divided into four principal strands: Prevent, Pursue, Protect, and Prepare. ‘Prevent’ stress on tackling radicalisation of individuals, both in the UK and elsewhere, which sustains the international terrorist threat. To ‘Pursue’ aims to reduce the terrorist threat to the UK and UK interests overseas by disrupting terrorist and their operations. ‘Protect’ is concerned with reducing the vulnerability and ‘Prepare’ signals that the UK is ready to address the consequences of terrorist attack. With the July 2005 attacks in London, several measures that do not raise excessive human rights concerns are being explored by the government. The strategic element of preventing radicalization is ‘Engaging in the battle of ideas—challenging the ideologies that extremists believe can justify the use of violence, primarily by helping Muslims who wish to dispute these ideas to do so” (Home Office, 2006). It is also observed that money underpins all Terrorist activity—without it there can be no attacks and, more fundamentally, no training, recruitment, facilitation or welfare support for terrorist groups. In the fight against terrorist activity disrupting flow of funds is crucial and the main UK strategy is:

  • to decrease the amount of funds raised in the UK for terrorist purposes by creating as hostile environment as possible
  • to identify and disrupt terrorist facilitators, and stop the flow of funds overseas where they impact on UK interest
  • to encourage and assist other countries in enhancing their own capabilities against terrorist finance.
  • UK Home Secretary may deport foreign nationals, who present a threat to national security, after satisfying that the proposed deportation is consistent with its international human rights obligations.
  • A memorandum of understating exists between UK and Jordan, Lebanon and Libya and separate arrangements made with Algeria on this basis.

Terrorism Act and criticism of Human Rights Watch

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, Terrorism is defined as “the use or threat designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public and the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause” (Terrorism Act, 2000). This definition forms the basis for many criminal offences, including the encouragement of terrorism, and activates wide ranging powers to the police. They could stop and search or arrest a suspect without warrant, and detain terrorism suspects without charge for 28 days. The Terrorist Act 2000 introduced a seven-day period of pre-charge detention, which was renewed to Criminal Justice Act 2003 following extensive parliamentary debate, with the provision of maximum 14-day detention. In 2006, against the proposed 90-day pre-charge detention a 28-day limit was brought after contentious debate in Parliament that established Terrorism Act 2006. It is interesting to note the transformation of Terrorism Act since its inception in 2000, and the initiative in 2007 is the fourth move in six years reveals the key interest of the government in its struggle against terrorism. However, this move to bring amendment to the provision of extended detention attracts much criticism from the public as well as International organisations.

It is viewed that the definition is exceedingly broad and lack legal precision. The definition of terrorism attracts criticism, because the International human rights law requires that ‘any law creating a criminal offence must be clear and precise enough for people’ to understand what conduct is prohibited and to regulate their behaviour accordingly (ECHR, article 7). However, the assessment of Lord Carlile supporting the amendment proposed for 2007 conclude that UK definition is “consistent with international comparators and treaties, and is useful and broadly fit for the purpose” (Lord Carlile) http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/carlile-terrorism-definition?view=Binary

Most important aspects of Human Rights Protection

In terms of the British Counter Terrorism system, three very important issues are highlighted in the Prime Minister’s Statement for wider public consultation, of which extending the current pre-charge detention period beyond the 28 days attracts more public attention. Human Rights Watch express their concern about the intention of the government to extend pre-charge detention beyond 28 days under the Terrorism Act 2006, on the ground that it violates human rights law. It is a violation of right to liberty for those not charged with any crime, because the UK government is responsible under the European Convention on Human rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political rights to safeguard individual rights.

Human Rights Watch is untiringly opposed to further extension of pre-charge custody time limits, as they view that current 28-day limit is notably longer as compared to legal systems of the United States and Canada as well as other European Union nations. Detention for longer period without charge violates the fundamental rights to liberty and security of the person and the allied protections against arbitrary state detention preserved in international law. Both the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR, in article 5) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, in article 9) require that an individual arrested or detained on reasonable suspicion of having committed an offence must be ‘informed promptly’ of the charges against him or her and ‘brought promptly’ before a judge or other office authorized by law to exercise judicial power. Article 5 (4) of the European Convention guarantees the right to challenge the legality of detention, whereas it challenges that the current scope of judicial inquiry in terrorism cases in the UK does not meet this requirement.

Human Rights Watch recommendations

  • Make no further extension of pre-charge detention
  • Improve safeguards for current 28-day pre-charge detention including:
  • Broadening judicial scrutiny to include whether reasonable grounds exist to believe the detainee has committed a terrorist offence;
  • Requiring the Director of Public Prosecution to approve all applications for detention beyond seven days
  • Reject a model of judge-managed investigation that would allow for unlimited pre-charge detention.
  • Relax the ban on using phone tap and other intercept evidence in criminal trials.
  • Narrow the current definition of terrorism to ensure acts aimed at influencing the government are criminalized only where their purpose is to coerce or unduly compel it.


The proposal for judicially supervised pre-charge detention of terrorist suspects, without time-limits or months together, would acutely damage the government’s effort to win “hearts and minds” and alienate communities who are willing to cooperate with the police and security service. It is, therefore, suggested that government should discard its efforts to extend pre-charge detention and make other proposals to make them friendly with human rights law, rather than flexing the rules, for winning hearts and minds.

It is argued that counterterrorism measures that violate human rights undermine UK’s moral legitimacy and home and abroad, erode public trust in law enforcement and security services, and alienate communities whose cooperation is critical in the fight against terrorism. In the words of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, confronting terrorism depends upon winning the “battle of hearts and minds” implying that more than security measures a humanitarian approach is central to counterterrorism strategy. It should be kept in mind that any deliberate attack on civilians flouts the most fundamental principles of human rights and humanitarian law, and will be counterproductive.


ECHR. European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms entered into force on September 3, 1953, ratified by the United Kingdom of Great Britain on September 3, 1953; and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted December 16, 1966, entered into force march 23, 1976, ratified by the United Kingdom of Great Britain on may 20, 1976.]

Lord Carlile. (2007). The Definitions of Terrorism. Web.

Home Office: Security. “Countering International Terrorism: The United Kingdom’s Strategy” (2006). Web.

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