New legal terrorism orders specifically for children should be brought in to tackle the growing numbers being arrested, the official adviser on terrorism law has told the government. Ministers are studying plans that would result in children being compelled to accept help or face jail, devised by Jonathan Hall KC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
The proposed new orders would carry legal force and, under them, children aged 17 or under who have been arrested for lower-level terrorism offences would be given a choice. They could either risk prosecution, imprisonment and a criminal record or accept stringent measures, Hall said. Hall, whose role is to advise the government and parliament on terrorism laws, said: “I’m not talking about the most serious cases, where prosecution will usually remain the best option. But during the last three years there has been a slew of internet cases where the suspected terrorist conduct all relates to what children are saying or downloading online. “There is a repeat pattern of particular offences, which I call documentary offences – instruction manuals, terrorist publications, encouragement – all internet-based, where there is no evidence of attack-planning. These offences were created at a time when there was a clearer link between words and violence, in the context of the IRA and al-Qaida. That link is less clear for children online.”
Hall’s proposals include monitoring software on their electronic devices to detect if they are accessing extremist material, limits on their use of devices, and potentially limits on whom they could contact. They would also have to attend mentoring sessions in an attempt to divert them from any belief in violent extremism. Under the plans being studied, breaching these conditions would in itself be an arrestable offence punishable by the courts. Complying with the conditions would avoid prosecution.