Thursday, 13 June 2013

Is arming the Syrian rebels a criminal offence under UK Law?

Today I'm going to see my MP to ask him to table a parliamentary question about the legality or otherwise of arming the Syrian rebels.

The appointment was arranged a few days ago. Since then the UN has published figures suggesting almost 93,000 people have been killed in the Civil War, see Syria deaths near 100,000, says UN – and 6,000 are children. And today it is reported that the US plans to arm Syrian rebels on the basis of "intelligence" that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/13/syria-chemical-weapons-us-confirm.

In this post I'll focus solely on the question of the legality of the UK Government arming the Syrian rebels.

In Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 we find the principal definition in UK Law of what constitutes "terrorism", see Terrorism Act 2000: Terrorism - Interpretation.

I've analysed that definition in more detail in relation to the Iraq War here: Was the Iraq War "terrorism" in UK Law?.

For present  purposes we need only consider two questions:

  1. Have the rebels caused serious violence against a person or caused serious damage to property?
  2. Have the rebels done so in pursuit of a political ideology?
Many press reports confirm that the answer to Question 1 is in the affirmative.

Similarly press reports make it clear that there is a political ideology underpinning the acts of violence or destruction of property. For different rebel groups, the ideology varies.

The reason that I ask only two questions is that where firearms or explosives are used (see Subsection 1(3))  only those two tests need to be assessed.

My conclusion is that on the basis of the publicly available evidence that the Syrian rebels have committed acts of "terrorism" as defined in UK Law.

Next we need to look at Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 which is found here:  Preparation of terrorist acts

For convenience I'll post the full text as available from the UK Government's site this morning:

5Preparation of terrorist acts(1)A person commits an offence if, with the intention of
(a)committing acts of terrorism, or
(b)assisting another to commit such acts,
he engages in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to his intention.
(2)It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsection (1) whether the intention and preparations relate to one or more particular acts of terrorism, acts of terrorism of a particular description or acts of terrorism generally.
(3)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life.
Basically, assisting anyone else to commit acts of terrorism is a criminal offence in UK Law. It's difficult, for example, to argue that supplying arms is for purely humanitarian purposes.

The punishment for such an offence contrary to Section 5 is imprisonment for life. So it's not a trivial matter.

So, if my analysis is correct, those "assisting" Syrian rebels to commit acts of terrorism can be imprisoned for life.

Will David Cameron and William Hague be locked up? If the Law was applied equally and we had honest senior Police officers in this country (which isn't a given) it seems to me that Cameron and Hague (as well as many others) should be locked up, if they arm those in Syria who are committing acts of terorism.

But the criminality, as I see it, of arming the Syrian rebels may raise other interesting questions.

David Cameron is said to have promised his backbenchers a vote on the issue. See Cameron promises MPs vote on whether to arm Syrian rebels .

Would Members of Parliament who vote for the UK to commit offences contrary to Section 5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 also be committing an offence?

A vote in favour of arming the Syrian rebels would be, on the face of it, "assisting" the arming of the Syrian rebels. I don't think that there's much doubt about MPs voting for arming the rebels having "assisted" them.


Can MPs be arrested for committing terrorist offences?

Are MPs immune from prosecuction on such matters?

Does "parliamentary privilege" extend to immunity from arrest and prosecution for a Section 5 terrorist offence? I suspect not.

It would be an interesting constitutional and legal debate.

An interesting political debate too. Not least after some of the flamboyant outpourings against terrorism from some Members of the House of Commons.

If the House of Commons did vote for arming the Syrian rebels could it fairly be called the House of Terrorists?

To attempt to answer the question let's look at the definition of "terrorist" in Section 40 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (see Terrorism Act 2000: Terrorist: interpretation

40 Terrorist: interpretation.

(1)In this Part “terrorist” means a person who
(a)has committed an offence under any of sections 11, 12, 15 to 18, 54 and 56 to 63, or
(b)is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.
(2)The reference in subsection (1)(b) to a person who has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism includes a reference to a person who has been, whether before or after the passing of this Act, concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism within the meaning given by section 1.
I have underlined the relevant parts of the Section.

MPs voting for arming the rebels would, at least arguably, have been "concerned in the ... preparation  ... of acts of terrorism", wouldn't they?

Is arming the Syrian rebels a criminal offence under UK Law? Yes

What is the punishment on conviction? Imprisonment for life.

It will be interesting to see how my meeting with my MP goes later today.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Was Dr. David Kelly murdered?

On 18th July 2013 it will be the 10th Anniversary of the day on which Dr. David Kelly's body was found at Harrowdown Hill, Oxfordshire.

Was he murdered?

I suspect he was.

I've recently begun what I hope will be a regular blog about the suspicious death of Dr. Kelly here:
Kellygate.com

I also posted extensively about Dr. Kelly's death on my Chilcot's Cheating Us blog. The posts about Dr. Kelly start in October 2010 here, Information sources about the death of Dr. David Kelly. I also post at some length about the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot. The blog's title, Chilcot's Cheating Us, conveys my opinion of the "inquiry" which Sir John Chilcot is running.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Was the Iraq War "terrorism" in UK Law?

Ten years ago the term "terrorism" was bandied around in conversation by some and appeared in various parts of the media in relation to the Iraq War.

Is there any meaningful basis for using the term "terrorism" in relation to the Iraq War?

In other words, was the Iraq War really "terrorism"?

In the ten years since the Iraq War started in 2003 I'm not aware of a single part of the UK mainstream media that has seriously examined the question of whether or not the Iraq War is or is not "terrorism" as defined in UK Law.

In case you're in a hurry to know the answer, I'll put you out your misery. Yes, the Iraq War was "terrorism" as defined in UK Law.

Let me explain why I think so.

The definition of "terrorism" in UK Law is to be found in Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

For your convenience, I'll post a link to the official UK Government site where the text of the Terrorism Act 2000 is hosted, so that you can check whether or not there have been any changes since I wrote this post. The text of the Terrorism Act 2000 is to be found here: Terrorism Act 2000, and the text of Section 1 is to be found here: Terrorism: Interpretation .

Here is the full text of the definition of "terrorism" in Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 taken from the UK Government's official site on 31st May 2013.

1 Terrorism: interpretation.(1)In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—
(a)the action falls within subsection (2),
(b)the use or threat is designed to influence the government [F1or an international governmental organisation]F1 or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c)the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [F2, racial]F2 or ideological cause.
(2)Action falls within this subsection if it—
(a)involves serious violence against a person,
(b)involves serious damage to property,
(c)endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d)creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e)is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
(3)The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.
(4)In this section—
(a)“action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,
(b)a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,
(c)a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and
(d)“the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.
(5)In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.
If you're not used to reading Acts of the UK Parliament the quote of Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 may be pretty opaque to you.

I'll split consideration of what Section 1 means into lay terms to help you understand what Section 1 says that "terrorism" is.

  1. What type of action?
  2. What intent?
  3. What is its rationale?
  4. Where does it occur?
Very simple, really.

I'll look at each of these four components in turn.

1. What type of action?

Section 1 says that the type of action is relevant. See Subsection 1(1)(a) which says that the types of action are specified in Subsection 1(2).

(2)Action falls within this subsection if it—
(a)involves serious violence against a person,
(b)involves serious damage to property,
(c)endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d)creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e)is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
Notice Subsection 1(2)(a). Did the Iraq War involve serious violence against anbody? That's a Yes.

Notice Subsection 1(2)(b). Did the Iraq War involve serious damage to property? That, too, is a Yes.

Notice Subsection 1(2)(c) Did the Iraq War endanger a person's life? That, too, is a Yes.

Notice Subsection 1(2)(d). Did the Iraq War create a serious risk to the health of the public or a section of the public? Think the use of depleted uranium shells, as an example. That, too, is a Yes.

Notice Subsection 1(2)(e). Did the Iraq War interfere with or seriously disrupt an electronic system? That, too, is a Yes, I believe.

Notice the little word "or" at the end of Subsection 1(2)(d).

It's only necessary that one Subsection in Subsection 1(2) is satisfied. But, in my view at least, all five criteria are satisfied.

2. What intent?

When firearms are used it's not necessary to ask this question.

See Subsection 1(3) where that is stated.

3. What is its rationale?

This relates to the logical basis for the action in question.

In Subsection 1(1)(c) it is expressed like this:

the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [F2, racial]F2 or ideological cause.
The idea behind the Iraq War is, in my view at least, to advance a political or ideological cause. Specifically UK and/or US foreign policy.

4. Where does it occur?

Is there anything to indicate that because the Iraq War happened outside the UK that it isn't "terrorism"?

No. The opposite is true. It's made explicit that this definition of "terorism" applies across the world.

Subsection 1(4),

(4)In this section—
(a)“action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,
(b)a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,
(c)a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and
(d)“the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.

makes it clear that action anywhere in the world can be "terrorism".

Conclusion

Action anywhere on planet Earth can be "terrorism" in UK Law (Subsection 1(4)).

The Iraq War meets the criteria specified in Subsection 1(1)(a).

The Iraq War meets the criteria specified in Subsection 1(1)(c).

Since firearms were used it's not necessary to examine Subsection 1(1)(b).

Since the criteria specified in both Subsection 1(1)(a) and Subsection 1(1)(c) are satisfied, THE IRAQ WAR IS "TERRORISM" IN UK LAW.

If you believe there is a flaw in my logic please feel free to post a Comment to express your question or concern.

Consequent Questions

 A host of important questions arise.

Here are a few examples:

Is Tony Blair a "terrorist"? Given the wording of Section 56 of the Terrorism Act 2000 here, Section 56, why hasn't Tony Blair been imprisoned for life?

Is Alastair Campbell a "terrorist"?

Was Lee Rigby a "terrorist"?

Why hasn't anyone in any of the UK Police forces acted to stop offences related to the Iraq War? Or offences related to Afghanistan? Or offences related to Libya?

Why hasn't Sir John Chilcot's Iraq Inquiry asked Lord Goldsmith about the relevance of Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000?

Why hasn't Sir John Chilcot asked Tony Blair (or a host of others) if they realised that the so-called "War on Terrorism" was itself "terrorism"?

 Do the British media, British Police and the Iraq Inquiry practice the "three monkeys" approach to justice? See no terrorism, hear no terrorism speak no terrorism?

I'll return to some of these related questions in future posts.