| 5.7°C Belfast

Emergency laws to keep terrorists behind bars to be debated in Parliament

The move follows the Streatham terror attack.

(PA)

Emergency legislation to block terrorists being automatically freed from jail is to be debated in Parliament.

The Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill will be introduced to the House of Commons on Tuesday and debated by MPs on Wednesday.

Ministers moved to bring in the laws urgently after the Streatham terror attack and aim to pass the legislation before the next terrorist is due to be released from prison on February 28, with more scheduled in March.

Two attacks in three months have been carried out by convicted terrorists after they were released from prison.

Police chiefs have also warned the threat of terrorism is “not diminishing”.

The plans, which will affect around 50 prisoners, aim to make sure terrorist offenders serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are considered eligible for release, rather than the current halfway mark.

Before being freed they would need to be reviewed by a panel of specialist judges and psychiatrists at the Parole Board.

The legislation is aiming to get royal assent on February 27 and the Government will consider further legislative changes if necessary.

Announcing the timetable for the Bill, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg told MPs: “I informed the House last week of the Government’s intention to introduce legislation to stop the automatic early release of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences.

“Today the Government will introduce that legislation and tomorrow’s business will now be consideration of a business of the House motion followed by all stages of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) Bill.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

For Labour, shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: “We on this side again repeat that terrorist prisoners should not be released automatically but subject to Parole Board assessment before release while serving their sentences.”

She asked about resources available to the Parole Board and probation service, to which Mr Rees-Mogg replied: “The Treasury has approved an increase in resources to ensure that the costs of maintaining people in prison and the associated costs are affordable.”

SNP Commons leader Tommy Sheppard said his party supported the legislation but asked for reassurances the Bill would not be held up in the Lords.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: “The urgency and the message coming from this House is very clear to them (the Lords) and therefore I expect them to handle this in a reasonable manner.”

Last week lawyers said they were gearing up for a legal fight against the Government over the plans, arguing the rules cannot be brought into force against sentences already handed down.

But officials said they were confident they had the flexibility to change how an offender serves their sentence, by extending the time they spend behind bars rather than on licence.

In the third attack in as many months, Sudesh Amman wore a fake suicide belt as he grabbed a knife from a shop in Streatham High Road, south London, on Sunday, before stabbing two bystanders.

Sudesh Amman
Sudesh Amman (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The 20-year-old had been jailed for possessing and distributing terrorist documents in December 2018, but was freed automatically halfway through his sentence less than a fortnight ago.

He was put under 24-hour police surveillance on his release as security services reportedly regarded him as an “extremely concerning individual”.

Two inmates wearing fake suicide belts stabbed a prison officer at maximum security HMP Whitemoor last month.

And Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were killed by Usman Khan in November when he launched an attack armed with two knives and wearing a fake suicide vest during a prisoner rehabilitation programme near London Bridge – nearly a year after he was released halfway through a 16-year jail sentence for terror offences.

There are 224 terrorists in prison in Britain, with most thought to be holding Islamist extremist views, according to the latest published figures to the end of September.

PA