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Charged with Terrorism

23 December 2021

What is the legal definition of a terrorist?

A terrorist is anyone who is involved in instigating, preparing, or committing acts of terrorism. The laws are not as straightforward as ' normal' crime. The government and media interest in these cases can make the fight to a not guilty verdict seem almost impossible. Being investigated is frightening enough, but being charged with terrorism is potentially life-changing for the defendant and anyone connected to them.

Terrorism Offences - The law explained

The main offences relating to terrorism are set out in the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Terrorism Act 2006. They are:

  • Weapons training

  • Directing a terrorist organisation

  • Inciting terrorism overseas

  • Preparation of terrorist acts

  • Training for terrorism

  • Making or possessing a radioactive device or material

  • The misuse of a radioactive device or material

  • Making terrorist threats relating to radioactive material

  • Encouragement of terrorism

  • Dissemination of terrorist publications

Is it an offence not to report terorrism?

It is also an offence to not disclose information to the authorities that might be of use in preventing terrorism. There is a maximum five-year sentence for a person charged with terrorism on this basis, even if they have done nothing active to further a terrorist plot.

If terrorism can't be proved can other offences be used?

If the terrorism connection can't be proven by admissible evidence then charges for murder, grievous bodily harm, explosives offences, firearms offences, fraud, possessing/manufacturing false documents or money laundering may be brought instead, depending on the circumstances.

Can police use stop and search powers in terrorism cases?

The police already have a general power to stop and search anyone they have a reasonable suspicion of possessing stolen articles, weapons or anything that might be used to steal or do criminal damage. They can also search vehicles.

The police can obtain a temporary power to stop and search people for things to be used in connection with terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000. No reasonable suspicion is required and the person need not be charged with terrorism, so anyone within an area may be searched. An officer of at least the rank of assistant chief constable (or commander) must give authority for them to use this power beforehand and this authority must last for no longer than 28 days.


For certain terrorism offences, the maximum time the police can hold someone is 14 days.

Once someone has been arrested, their detention will be reviewed every 12 hours and after 48 hours a warrant is required from a judge to retain them in custody. The judge will only give the warrant if satisfied that the detention is required to obtain or preserve evidence and the investigation is being done properly. Further warrants can be issued and further time given.

The limit for non-terrorism offences is much lower at just four days.

What are TPIMs? Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures

TPIMs are used to monitor terror suspects who can't be charged or deported. They are placed on individuals in an attempt to observe and control their movements and activities. The measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas”. They will usually always include a condition of residence.

The orders can last up to five years but they must be reviewed annually.

Being a court order any breach of a TPIM can be treated as a separate offence which in itself could lead to prison time.

Human Rights of a person charged with terrorism

Protecting the country and the general public is very important. However, the law must only punish those who have been convicted of an offence after a fair and just trial. The need for security must be balanced against people's fundamental human rights including this right to a fair trial, but also others such as freedom of speech and freedom of association. Terrorism law frequently encroaches on these rights.

Additionally, people are denied their freedom of speech and freedom of association by being members of groups, or by merely stating opinions or beliefs. Also, police phone tapping is routinely carried out, but this evidence is illegal and inadmissible in the courts, and it infringes upon someone's right to family life.

Evidence in a terrorism case

Evidence of terrorism often comes from covert sources and informants and is tightly protected. The Police, National Crime Agency, and the Security Services will protect sources of information from being disclosed in the course of criminal proceedings.

Someone charged with terrorism offences must absolutely know what is being alleged of them. If a defendant does not know the evidence and case against him or her, then a specialist defence lawyer must fight with the prosecution to obtain disclosure. These disclosure battles may ultimately be fought out in court, with the judge deciding.

Unbelievably to defendants, the court may not even give access to the defence lawyers in this argument, because they may be excluded.

The law recognises the importance of protecting people's rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 ensures their protection. Cases can be challenged on human rights grounds in the courts and arguments on this basis are often successful.

Sentencing in Terrorism Cases

Sentencing in terrorism cases is often the toughest of any criminal offence. Changes to the legislation in recent years also mean that anyone sentenced to an extended sentence under the terrorism acts is no longer eligible for parole. If you or a member of your family have been charged with a terrorism related offence we strongly advise seeking expert advice as soon as possible.

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