Earlier this month HRLA’s Young Lawyers Committee met in the historic hall at Gray’s Inn with outgoing terror watchdog Max Hill QC for a discussion on terrorism and human rights.
This was Hill’s last engagement as Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation (IRTL) before taking on his new role as Director of Public Prosecutions. The hall was full with lawyers, students, and even the legal press, who were keen to hear how he had managed the role through a period that included the 2017 attacks on the Finsbury Park Mosque, Westminster, and the Manchester Arena. Conducting this dialogue event was his legal assistant Fatima Jichi – a young human rights lawyer in her own right and future pupil barrister at Garden Court Chambers.
Hill has had an illustrious career. Called to the Bar in 1987, he took silk in 2008, before becoming head of Red Lion Chambers, the Criminal Bar Association, the South Eastern Circuit, and the Kalisher Trust. Hill even starred in the Channel 4 programme ‘The Trial: A Murder in the Family’, which aimed to educate the public about the modern murder trial. Hill has appeared in many high-profile murder trials himself, including the killing of Damilola Taylor, and the London bombings of 2005. On 1st March 2017 he commenced his role as the UK’s terror watchdog.
Here are some highlights from the discussion:
1.What does the terror watchdog do?
The IRTL, who has unfettered access to all government departments, is an independent lawyer responsible for reviewing the Terrorism Acts and associated legislation and reporting annually to Parliament. Primarily this includes four main Acts: the Terrorism Act 2000, the Terrorism Act 2006, the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 (TPIM), and the Terrorist Asset-Freezing Act 2010 (TAFA). His final report as IRTL was published on the day of our event and covered areas such as the major terrorism investigations of 2017, stop and search policies, and port and border controls.
- Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs)
A large part of the evening’s discussion focused on Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs). These are administrative measures that the Home Secretary can impose on a terror suspect when there is intelligence but no evidence that can be used in open court. Replacing the controversial Control Orders, deemed incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, TPIMs can impose up to 16 measures on an individual including relocation, curfews and financial activity. Whilst Hill recognised the human rights concerns around the use of TPIMs he stated that they are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Recommending a more flexible use of the available measures, Hill stated that in most cases almost all 16 are imposed, which can be both unnecessary and disproportionate.
- Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018
During his time as IRTL, Hill also commented on the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill 2018 currently going through Parliament. Here he was vocal about its potential problems, in particular Clause 3 of the draft bill, which establishes the offence of viewing terrorist material online and carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. “To place someone on trial when they haven’t even downloaded, when it’s one click, rings all sorts of alarm bells, in terms of legitimate research, legitimate use, legitimate freedoms,” he said. Hill recommended that this provision be thought through and drafted again. On the future of the bill, Hill also stressed that lessons be learnt from the French experience, where the French Parliament is attempting to normalise laws passed during 2 years of a state of emergency, which interfere with human rights. He warned the UK should be very careful not to follow suit.
- Pre-charge detention of terror suspects
Asked about detention in the context of terrorism, Hill explained how Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 permits the arrest and detention of terror suspects for 14 days without charge. The Act also permits the Home Secretary to extend detention to a maximum of 28 days. This limit may seem excessive compared with other countries (in France it is 6 days, in the USA it is 2 days) but Hill stressed that these figures are not directly comparable due to differences in the way each system operates. Hill recommended that the limit stay at 14 days and emphasised that at one point Parliament seriously debated a 90-day limit without charge. On the issue of solitary confinement he was clear that we have international obligations to apply learning on the effects on the subject’s physical and mental wellbeing.
- Advice for young lawyers?
Despite Hill’s truly impressive career, the audience was encouraged to hear that he too was human having struggled to obtain tenancy at a barristers chambers in his early career (it took him 3 separate pupillages!). When asked what advice he would give young lawyers he was adamant that they should not be put off by a legal aid career but should be thinking about combining it with some private work to ensure sustainability. Hill finished the evening by asking his assistant Fatima Jichi what she had gained from her own role. In response she said she had come to understand the value of community engagement, balance, and independence in a career in law.
The Young Lawyers Committee would like to thank Gray’s Inn for hosting the event as well as Max Hill QC and Fatima Jichi for a fascinating discussion.
Markus Findlay is Chair of HRLA’s Young Lawyers Committee and a caseworker at the Bar Pro Bono Unit. Follow him on Twitter @markus_findlay