Ban on legal aid for terrorists ‘could backfire’

(file photo)  (PA Wire)
(file photo) (PA Wire)

A new law to stop terrorists claiming legal aid risks “unintended consequences” and could increase the danger of them carrying out a new attack, the government’s terror watchdog has warned Parliament.

Jonathan Hall QC said that clauses in the new National Security Bill bringing in a 30-year ban on terror convicts claiming civil legal aid were intended by ministers to be “symbolic”.

He said the government’s aim was “to reflect the significance of the bonds with the state and society that are broken by the commission of terrorist offences”.

But he warned that the reform could backfire by stopping them from getting help for mental health, housing or other problems, and by undermining the chances of them reintegrating successfully back into society after release from prison.

“Even symbolic restrictions may have practical consequences,” Mr Hall warns parliamentarians in a briefing note on the new legislation.

“No released terrorist offender is going to reoffend merely because their access to civil legal aid is restricted. But legal advice and assistance is relevant to securing help on housing, debt and mental health.

“A homeless terrorist offender, or one whose mental health needs are unaddressed, will present a higher risk to the public. There is a risk of unintended consequences.”

Mr Hall, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, adds that although released terrorist offenders “do present a particular risk” the “best outcome” for the public is for them to reintegrate into society successfully.

“A terrorist offender who goes back into society and lives quietly is a rosier prospect than one who needs perpetual monitoring,” his briefing note states.