Jonathan Wall provides an insight into S5 Terrorism Act - Preparation of terrorist acts

Despite the fact that deaths in the UK in relation to acts of terror has decreased in the past few decades, the number of arrests for terror related offences and prosecutions has risen. According to government statistics released last year, since 2001 persons arrested for terrorism offences were from 100 different nationalities. British is the nationality that topped the poll by a huge margin of over 1100% as there were over 2,219 arrests in comparison to the next, Algerian with 173 arrests. The figures also show that in 2017 the prison population in the UK was at an all time high of prisoners classed as “terrorist or extremist”.

Some of those arrested and imprisoned were convicted of an offence contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 of preparation of terrorist acts. This is one of the offences created by the 2006 act which came about as a direct action from the government in the response to the 2005 London Bombings.

What does preparation of terrorist acts mean?

The legal definition is that a person commits this offence if he or she engages in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to his or her intention of either committing acts of terrorism or assists another person to commit such an act. It is irrelevant whether the intention or preparatory acts relate to one or more particular instances of terrorism that are of a particular description or acts of terrorism generally. But it is a requirement that the prosecution prove that an individual had a specific intent to commit an act or acts which can include a variety of steps from relatively minor roles such as providing accommodation or funding all the way up to planning mass murder.

What’s the definition of an act or acts of terrorism?

In order to consider what amounts to an act of terrorism, we must first consider what the definition of terrorism is. Terrorism was originally defined by the earlier Terrorism Act 2000, but was amended slightly by the 2006 act.

First, there is use of or threat of an action which;

  • involves serious violence against a person,
  • involves serious damage to property or endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action, regardless of the location of the person/s or property.
  • creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public (including the public of another country)
  • is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.

Or use or threat of an action, which;

  • is designed to influence government (including governments of other countries or international governmental organisations), or intimidate the public or a section of the public, and;
  • Is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.

The offence can be committed and prosecuted in the UK even if the “action” takes place or is intended to take place overseas. If the use or action involves firearms or explosives there is no requirement to prove that it must be designed to influence government.

The offence may also be committed if the action taken is for the benefit of a “Proscribed Organisation”.

What is a proscribed organisation?

A proscribed organisation is an organisation which the Home Secretary has decided under a statutory test that the organisation is concerned in terrorism, for example where it;

• commits or participates in acts of terrorism;

• prepares for terrorism;

• promotes or encourages terrorism (including the unlawful glorification of terrorism); or

• is otherwise concerned in terrorism

and where it is proportionate to do so, bearing in mind matters such as the nature and scale of the organisations activities and specific threat to the UK or British nationals.

There are also various other offences in relation to proscribed organisations. Belonging or professing to belong to, inviting support of a proscribed organisation or wearing clothing or displaying articles which arouses reasonable suspicions that a person is a member or supporter are a few examples of those offences. An up-to-date list of proscribed organisations can be found here.

What is the sentence for preparation of terrorist acts?

The maximum sentence under the act is one of life imprisonment. The sentencing council has produced guidelines in respect of terrorism. Clearly the guidelines vary widely and are dependant upon both culpability of the offender and harm to the public. At the bottom of the scale, an offender who has engaged in very limited preparation for terrorist activity where there was a risk to life, but where death was unlikely to be caused has a sentencing starting point of 4 years with a range of between 3 and 6 years.

At the other end of the scale where an offender has a higher culpability, for example where he acted in a leading role where preparations were completed or close to completion and it was only due to his or her arrest that they are likely to have been carried out and likely to have caused multiple deaths, the starting point is one of 35 years imprisonment with a range of 30-40 years.

Examples of preparation of terrorist acts

Last year Husnain Rashid went on trial for seven offences, but pleaded guilty to three offences which involved posting an image of and the name and address of Prince George’s school on an online messaging service with an instruction or threat that he or other members of the royal family should be targeted by terrorists.

In the last week Mohammed Yamin was charged with three offences including preparation of terrorist acts which are said to have involved the purchase of equipment and clothing, obtaining information about the routes to Syria, the purchase of a one-way flight ticket to facilitate the journey to Syria and his subsequent travel there.

Rashid was sentenced to life sentences with a minimum term of 25 years. Yamin is expected to go on trial at Central Criminal Court later this year.

In June last year it was reported that Rizlaine Boular aged 22 was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 16 years and her mother, Mina Dich aged 44 was sentenced to 6 years 9 months for helping her daughter by driving her around London looking for terrorist targets and later accompanying her to Sainsbury's to buy knives.

If you would like any further information or have been accused of a terrorist offence and need legal advice, from a specialist solicitor please contact us. Based in Manchester, but operating throughout the UK, Burton Copeland have over 30 years experience in representing clients accused of the most serious offences.