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Police must stop terror supporters
Home secretary says chief constables must use full force of the law
“There can be no place for antisemitism or glorification of terrorism on the streets of Britain,” the home secretary said yesterday.
Suella Braverman told chief constables she expected the police “to use the full force of the law against displays of support for Hamas, other proscribed terrorist groups or attempts to harass and intimidate British Jews”.
Her comments come after people took to the streets this week, apparently in support of the terrorist group that murdered hundreds of people in Israel at the weekend during what has been widely described as a pogrom.
What does the law say about this?
The Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 3) Order 2021, which applies throughout the United Kingdom, came into force on 26 November 2021. It made a change to the proscribed organisations listed in schedule 2 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Instead of “Hamas-Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades”, it now says “Harakat al Muqawama al-Islamiyya (Hamas)”.
As the Home Office explained at the time, this meant that “the Islamist terrorist group Hamas has today become a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK in its entirety”.
Supporting proscribed organisations
Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 criminalises people who invite support, other than fund-raising, for proscribed organisations.
Subsection (1A) says:
A person commits an offence if the person—
(a) expresses an opinion or belief that is supportive of a proscribed organisation, and
(b) in doing so is reckless as to whether a person to whom the expression is directed will be encouraged to support a proscribed organisation.
Subsection (3) says:
A person commits an offence if he addresses a meeting and the purpose of his address is to encourage support for a proscribed organisation or to further its activities.
The maximum penalty for these offences is 14 years’ imprisonment.
Glorification of terrorism
Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 makes it an offence to encourage the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Under subsection (3), that includes a statement that “glorifies the commission or preparation” of acts of terrorism. The maximum penalty is 15 years’ imprisonment.
Advice to police
The Home Secretary reminded chief constables yesterday that it was a criminal offence for a person in the UK to:
belong to Hamas
invite support for Hamas
express support for Hamas whilst being reckless as to whether the expression will encourage support of it
arrange a meeting in support of Hamas
wear clothing or carry articles in public which arouse reasonable suspicion that an individual is a member or supporter of Hamas; or
publish an image of an article such as a flag or logo in the same circumstances
Clothing and flags
The last two offences listed are created by section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000.
Subsection (1) says:
A person in a public place commits an offence if he—
(a) wears an item of clothing, or
(b) wears, carries or displays an article,
in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that he is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
And subsection (1A) says:
A person commits an offence if the person publishes an image of—
(a) an item of clothing, or
(b) any other article,
in such a way or in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.
Under subsection (4), the police can seize items referred to in subsection (1). But they cannot require people to remove an item of clothing that is worn next to the skin, such as a headscarf.
The maximum penalty for these offences is six months’ imprisonment.
Not just symbols
Braverman told chief constables:
At a time when Hamas terrorists are massacring civilians and taking the most vulnerable (including the elderly, women, and children) hostage, we can all recognise the harrowing effect that displays of their logos and flags can have on communities. I therefore ask that your police forces are alert and ready to respond to any potential offences.
Of course, it is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern. I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated section 5 public order offence.
I would encourage police to give similar consideration to the presence of symbols such as swastikas at anti-Israel demonstrations. Context is crucial. Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism. Nor is it acceptable to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public, to aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols at. Where harassment is identified, I would encourage the police to take swift and appropriate enforcement action.
Aggravated public order offences
She was referring there to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, as subsequently amended.
Subsection (1) says:
A person is guilty of an offence if he—
(a) uses threatening or abusive words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
For that, the maximum penalty is a fine. But section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 creates a more serious version of the offence.
A person who commits an offence under section 5 of the 1986 act which is racially or religiously aggravated may be imprisoned for up to two years.
An offence is racially or religiously aggravated… if—
(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim's membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.
I encourage all chief officers to ensure that any protests which could exacerbate community tensions by way of offensive placards, chants, or behaviours that could be construed as incitement or harassment, have a strong police presence to ensure perpetrators are appropriately dealt with, and that communities feel protected.
Decisions on arrests are rightly an operational matter for the police, in line with the duty to keep the peace, to protect communities, and to prevent the commission of offences. However, I would urge you to ensure your forces use all available powers to prevent disorder and distress to our communities, and that your officers will act if there are any incidents that stray into criminality.
A news report in today’s Guardian says Braverman’s words “will deeply concern freedom of speech advocates and members of the Muslim community”. It quotes Baroness Chakrabarti as saying that “anxious and vulnerable minority communities are not made safer by the politicisation of policing in difficult and dangerous times”.
In my view, reminding chief constables of the law does not amount to the politicisation of policing. “Anxious and vulnerable minority communities” would certainly feel safer if the police took action against those who encourage support for terrorists on the streets of Britain.
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Update 5 November: an open letter to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner signed by a number of leading lawyers refers to the offences mentioned in this piece. They argue that these laws are not being applied or enforced with sufficient rigour by the police in London,
In addition, the letter refers to the powers police officers have under the amended Public Order Act 1986 to impose conditions on public processions and on public assemblies. These conditions can be imposed if a senior police officer reasonably believes that the proposed procession or assembly
may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community
The lawyers argue that those conditions were met in demonstrations on 14, 21 and 28 October. They called for restrictions on future marches or rallies.
After a further demonstration yesterday, the Campaign against Antisemitism is now calling on the police to ban a procession planned for 11 November. Section 13(4) of the Public Order Act 1986 says:
If at any time the Commissioner of Police for the City of London or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis reasonably believes that, because of particular circumstances existing in his police area or part of it, the powers under section 12 will not be sufficient to prevent the holding of public processions in that area or part from resulting in serious public disorder, he may with the consent of the Secretary of State make an order prohibiting for such period not exceeding 3 months as may be specified in the order the holding of all public processions (or of any class of public procession so specified) in the area or part concerned.
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