by Chris Bertram on July 26, 2005

Calling British lawyers! In the wake of the London bombings the British government has moved to get the Opposition to agree to new laws :

… including bans on preparing, inciting or training for terrorism.

Aren’t all these activities already illegal under the law of conspiracy? Weren’t IRA bombers regularly charged, for instance, with “conspiracy to cause explosions”? Informed answers only please.



Cryptic Ned 07.26.05 at 9:38 am

A ban on “preparing for terrorism”? At least that would eliminate the pointless NYC subway plan.


leon 07.26.05 at 10:03 am

One of the new things being considered is fifteen years in jail for “attacking the values of the West”. I’ve no idea what the hell that means but the idea that merely voicing dissent toward a society/country means prison sounds like fascism to me…


Adrian 07.26.05 at 10:12 am

Well, yes, though conspiracy requires two conspirators, so the new laws could get at people preparing alone (or where proof of cooperation is missing).

Making specific laws where general ones already exist is common enough. The point is usually to modify the general principles (which are, after all, general) in some way, as to evidence, penalties, procedure, etc.

(Even if it’s just an attempt to be seen as doing something without actually changing the law, that’s a happier form of demagoguery than infringing civil liberties, no?)


AlanB. 07.26.05 at 11:37 am

Informed answers only please.

You crack me up.


Per Klevnas 07.26.05 at 11:50 am

I don’t think it is correct that conspiracy laws are only applicable when there is more than one person involved. For example, Kamel Bourgas was the only person to be convicted in the so-called London ricin case and was found guilty of “conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”. He was, acquitted of the more serious charge of “conspiracy to murder”.

As an aside, the fact that this trial did not result in convictions for other defendants had little to do with absence of legal instruments to prosecute, and everything to do with the fact that there was no conspiracy (and no ricin).


Liadnan 07.26.05 at 12:59 pm

I had a very similar thought (though I haven’t had to think much about criminal law since I qualified frankly). Incitement to commit any crime is itself a crime at common law triable in the same way as the crime incited and where triable on indictment, as it would inevitably be, is nowadays punishable at the discretion of the court.
Conspiracy to commit a crime is a statutory offence (except for conspiracy to defraud) under section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 as amended. Section 1(1) states that the offence is committed “if a person agrees with any other person or persons that a course of conduct will be pursued which […blah…] (a) will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence [etc] (b) [impossibility not a defence]

So, yes, am puzzled myself. But then it’s true there are several instances of specific narrowly defined statutory offences which overlap with more general ones, manslaughter in particular.


soru 07.26.05 at 2:39 pm

If a British citizen travels to Pakistan, attends a paramiltary training course organised by a radical jihadi group, and fights against the Indian army in Kashmir (without committing an actual war crime), then what current UK laws has he broken?

I think that’s the profile that is meant when various spooks talk about ‘200 known terrorists’ in the country. But I don’t know if they remain known but unnarrested due to lack of legally-usable proof, or lack of an applicable law.



Liadnan 07.26.05 at 2:57 pm

Soru: probably none, given your exclusion of war crimes and assuming no other “crime of universal jurisdiction” (see Pinochet) is relevant either,
But in English law* a conspiracy out of the jurisdiction to commit a crime in the jurisdiction is a crime triable in the jurisdiction (if that sentence makes sense). Say your British citizen had been directed in Pakistan to carry out a bombing in London then both he and his instructors would, I think, be guilty of conspiracy to commit an offence triable in England. Whether this also applies to incitement I doubt but am unsure.

*Saying British is confusing. Scotland Does Things Differently (although quite possibly not particularly so on this point).


Dianne 07.26.05 at 3:14 pm

But what the heck does “preparing, inciting, or training for terrorism” mean? This sounds like one of those laws that is vague enough to allow the arrest of anyone who annoys the government. For example, what is to stop them from declaring peaceful protests to be “terrorism” or criticism of the government “inciting terrorism”? For that matter, how can anyone prove that they are not preparing for something…anything? For example, could taking a chemistry course be considered evidence that someone is preparing for terrorism (ie learning how to make explosives)?


rich 07.27.05 at 5:58 am

I’d quite like to know a) exactly how “terrorism” is defined in the bill because, as Dianne points out, it would be worryingly easy to make it wide enough to pick up anyone who disagrees with the government and says so and b) if it is passed, when we can expect the first extradition requests to the US for those who support the IRA?


Liadnan 07.27.05 at 8:21 am

I would be very surprised in they don’t stick to the definition of terrorism in Terrorism Act 2000 section 1. (That act was partly concerned with Northern Ireland specifically, incidentally.)


Robin Green 07.27.05 at 8:32 am

when we can expect the first extradition requests to the US for those who support the IRA

I share the reservations above about this proposed law, but I’d love to see this particular bit happen. The hypocrisy and double-standards is sickening.


John M. 07.28.05 at 3:30 am

You’re quite right that an extensive framework of anti-terrorist laws already exist in the UK. The new laws are primarily concerned with lowering and/or changing the basis of proof required to convict. That said, read this: IRA terrorist released. Clearly anti-terrorist laws in the UK only apply to certain terrorists, under certain circumstances.

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