British Definition of Terrorism Termed Overly Broad

July 6, 2006

Britain’s legal definition of terrorism may be too broad and may have to be refined, according to a lawyer who is advising the government.

Lord Carlile, a senior barrister, has been appointed by the Home Office to review the legal definition of terrorism and has begun receiving opinions from various parties.

“If there is one consistent thread through this public consultative process, people have been asking for tight definition,” Carlile said at a conference in London.

“The existing definition has come in for criticism for being too broad, for example by covering people destroying crops which have been genetically modified.”

Carlile plans to publish his conclusions at the end of the year.

Britain’s Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism as an act or threat “designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public”; and which involves (a) involves serious violence against a person, serious damage to property, endangering a person’s life, creating a serious risk to public health and safety, or is designed to seriously interfere with or disrupt an electronic system.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said the current definition was fuzzy.

She suggested that Carlile consider whether speech offenses, such as glorifying terrorism, should be dropped from the definition.

Connor Gearty, professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, called for all “terrorist” offenses to be scrapped and to deal with the problem through the ordinary criminal law.

“I would prefer to regard terrorism as a species of serious criminal offense,” Gearty said, adding that special rules for dealing with terrorism had a “corrosive effect on the rule of law.”

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