The Sentencing Council is responsible for producing guidelines on sentencing for the judiciary and criminal justice professionals. The Council keeps the guidelines under review and publishes new ones where appropriate.

A new consultation has been published looking at revised guidelines for terrorism offences. The proposed revisions to the existing guidelines reflect the new legislation and ensure courts have up-to-date guidance for dealing with extremely serious offences.

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 introduced a new serious terrorism sentence with a minimum sentence of 14 years imprisonment and an extension period to be served on licence.

The sentence applies where:
the court is of the opinion that there is a significant risk to the public of serious harm by the offender committing further serious terrorism offences or other specified offences;
if a life term is not imposed; and
the serious terrorism offence, or a combination of the offence and associated offences, was very likely to result in or contribute to the deaths of at least two people as a result of an act of terrorism (known as the “risk of multiple deaths condition”).

The draft guidelines relate to:
preparation of terrorist acts, section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006;
explosive substances (terrorism only), sections 2 and 3 of the Explosive Substances Act 1883;
membership of proscribed organisations, section 11 of the Terrorism Act 2000; and
support of proscribed organisations, section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

Proscribed organisations are extremist groups or organisations which are banned under UK law. There is a list of such organisations, with the provision of criteria to consider in deciding whether or not the government should proscribe a particular group or organisation.

Terrorism is described, in the proscription context, as the use or threat of action which involves serious violence against a person, endangers a person’s life, involves serious damage to property, creates a serious risk to the health and safety of the public, or is designed to interfere with or seriously disrupt an electronic system.

The use or threat of such action must be designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public. It must be undertaken for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.

The guidelines are aimed at adult offenders, and the consultation will run until 11 January 2022.

In respect of explosive substances and preparation of terrorist acts, guidelines include:
new guidance for sentencing offenders who met the criteria for a ‘serious terrorism offence’. This will be a new type of sentence, a minimum sentence of 14 years imprisonment to be imposed unless there are exceptional circumstances.
new guidance to consider in deciding whether those exceptional circumstances exist.
additional guidance for sentencing when cases include the involvement of law enforcement authorities through surveillance or infiltration.

In the last category, the guidance proposes that the court identifies the category of culpability as if the law enforcement officer was a genuine conspirator. The level of harm would be based on the harm that the offender intended and the viability of the plan.

The draft guidelines for the offences of membership or support of a proscribed organisation include proposed increased sentencing levels of up to 13 years. This is to reflect the new higher maximum sentences provided for under the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing 2021 Act.

Mrs Justice Maura McGowan is the Council member with responsibility for terrorism offences. She was quoted as saying acts of terrorism are constantly evolving, and the law is regularly updated as a result, thus requiring a new approach to sentencing.


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