No 10 should not implement plans to amend the law on glorifying terrorism after the pro-Palestine marches as it would do “no favours” to police, MI5 or the probation service, a government adviser has said.
In a 15-page report submitted to the Home Office, Jonathan Hall KC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said there was no need to respond to the marches with new terrorism legislation, adding that there was “good reason for caution” given both the risk of unintended consequences and the drain on limited state resources.
Ministers have said they want to tighten the law on glorifying terrorism after the conduct of a minority of people on the pro-Palestine demonstrations in recent weeks, including the chanting of the controversial slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, prompted calls for change. Some view the words as antisemitic and as encouraging the destruction of Israel.
In his advice to the home secretary, James Cleverly, Hall wrote that changes to terrorism legislation would not be the right course given the utmost seriousness of the crimes they cover, the need for precision in the law and the risk of inflicting “excessive damage” on the right to free speech.
He said: “My overall conclusion is that there is no need to legislate for any amendments to terrorism legislation now, and good reason for caution.
“It is difficult to identify any real situations where a gap in terrorism legislation means that terrorist mischief cannot currently be addressed by arrest and prosecution.
“Given the number of pro-Palestine marchers, there have been plenty of opportunities for gaps to become apparent. There may well be other mischiefs (such as antisemitism), but those are not a subject for terrorism legislation.
“There is a general risk of legislating in response to one set of protests because of the risk of unintended consequences when new legislation comes to be applied to other protests.”
Hall added that to “extend the poll of terrorist offences unnecessarily” would impose further burdens on the already stretched security services.
“Either the investigative authorities dramatically shift their resources or ignore new terrorist offences,” he warned. “If individuals are convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment, this has major resource implications for their management in prison and on release.”
The glorifying of terrorism is already a criminal offence, but only if people could reasonably infer that there is an encouragement to emulate the conduct. Hall warned that broadening the offence should be immediately ruled out.
He wrote: “The terrorism definition applies just as well to the anti-apartheid actions of Nelson Mandela and the revolutionary battles of Scotland’s William Wallace as to the terrorist attacks on 7 October 2023. There are plenty of other examples. A general solution of prohibiting all reference to terrorists or terrorist acts at public marches can therefore be rejected at the outset.”
Hall said it was already an offence to belong to a proscribed organisation, wear an article linked to it, to deliberately invite support for it or recklessly encourage support for it, and that the laws had been precisely written to target those who pose a real danger to the public.
He wrote: “Especially on political matters or questions of public interest, members of the public should not be daunted from exercising their freedom of expression and right of lawful assembly based on laws which are vague or which they cannot be expected to understand.”