On October 6th, an update was published to the list of terrorist organisations proscribed under UK law (U.K. Government 2017b). A notable inclusion (Ibid, p. 15) reflects the government order laid before Parliament at the end of September (U.K. Government 2017a) linking Scottish Dawn and NS131 (National Socialist Anti-capitalist Action) with the right-wing extremist group National Action, itself proscribed in December 2016 (The Telegraph 2017).
A Commons Library briefing, also issued on October 6th “Terrorism in Great Britain: the statistics” (Allen & Dempsey 2017) makes interesting reading in conjunction with (U.K. Government 2017b) and historical details of successful terrorist prosecutions, compiled by the Crown Prosecution Service Counter-terrorism Division. Taking these sources together, a number of questions are ripe for critical examination, including:
1. How and under what circumstances does proscription occur?
2. How and under what circumstances does deproscription occur? And leading on from that, which organisations have been successful in this process?
3. Is proscription effective, and by what standard is effectiveness measured?
Anderson (2013, p. 62) defines the objectives of proscription as:
(a) deterring terrorist organisations from operating in the United Kingdom, and disrupting their ability to do so; and
(b) supporting other countries in disrupting terrorist activity, and sending a strong signal across the world that such organisations, and their claims to legitimacy, are rejected.
Godec & Lipscombe (2017, pp. 4-11) sets out key definitions and the procedural mechanics by which the Home Secretary, under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, may table a recommendation for proscription. In short:
Section 3 of the 2000 Act enables the Secretary of State to make orders adding or removing organisations from the list in Schedule 2 [ SN:the list of proscribed groups] or amending the Schedule in some other way. These orders are subject to the affirmative procedure and therefore require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.” (Godec & Lipscombe 2017, p. 8).
The former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC further sets out a number of useful ‘principles’ (Anderson 2013, p. 61) concerning the sensibilities of proscription, given the vast number of potentially qualifying organisations. The proscription of ‘political wings’ of terrorist movements must similarly be considered, somewhat cautioned against in (Powell 2015). As a key negotiator in the Northern Ireland peace process, Powell argues the importance of having the ability to open and operate official negotiating channels.
Dealing directly with proscribed groups no doubt adds complexity (not least in normative terms), but whether legal nicety was a true impediment in Northern Ireland is questionable. More recently, calls for the proscription of the political wing of Hezbollah has exemplified this quandary.
Sections 4 to 6 of the Terrorism Act 2000 set out the procedure by which an organisation can submit an application for deproscription to the Home Secretary. Unsuccessful deproscription petitions can be taken to the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission for review.
Only two organisations have successfully navigated deproscription, namely, Mujaheddin e Khalq (MeK) (Lord Alton 2007) and the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) (Godec & Lipscombe 2017, p. 12). It is however hardly surprising that terrorist groups such as the Al Qaeda, ISIS or the Provisional IRA have not petitioned the UK Home Secretary to have their proscription removed. The numbers are thus understandably low.
As described in (Godec & Lipscombe 2017, p. 3):
Despite repeated calls by the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation to Introduce time limits to proscription orders, deproscription is done by way of application only.
This could begin to explain why organisations such as Cumann na mBan or Fianna Éireann (both pre-dating the Easter 1916 Rising in Ireland) are proscribed under Northern Ireland Related Terrorism (NIRT). Alternatively, association (if such proves to exist, or likely to be revived) with active republican dissidents, would legitimate their continuing status.
In considering the general efficacy of proscription, Professor Clive Walker strikes a cautionary note:
Proscription has been of marginal utility in combating political violence, to which the survival of the IRA over most of a century bears ample testimony. Paramilitary organisations cannot be abolished by legislative fiat, and proscription actually increases the difficulties of infiltration and monitoring so as to achieve the criminalisation of those members engaged in violence. (Godec & Lipscombe 2017, p. 13)
Proscription must therefore be situated within an holistic package of counter-terrorism measures. Measures of disruption might include, as I expand on (in a slightly more militaristic context) in (Nimmons 2017):
numbers of disrupted plots, seizure of armaments, volume and quality of actionable intelligence, numbers of terrorists arrested, convicted or killed. Proxy measures for community support may include tips offs, reports of suspicious devices or activities.
Importance of Scottish Dawn and NS131 Proscription
Of signal importance in the case of NS131 and Scottish Dawn proscription will be (as outlined in (Anderson 2013)), the widespread disruption and thwarting of terrorist aims (at home and abroad) and signalling to domestic and foreign audiences that violent far-right extremism in Britain will not be tolerated. Arrests, prosecutions, weapons and equipment seizure and other quantifiable measures give indication of the effectiveness of policy and countermeasures. Counter-narratives and ensuring PREVENT and Channel guidance are attuned across the ‘risk spectrum’ is important to ensure threats to civil society are appropriately prioritised and mitigated.
Allen, G. & Dempsey, N., 2017. Terrorism in Great Britain: the statistics, London. Available at: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7613/CBP-7613.pdf.
Anderson, D., 2013. The Terrorism Acts in 2012 REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT REVIEWER ON THE OPERATION OF THE TERRORISM ACT 2000 AND PART 1 OF THE TERRORISM ACT 2006, Available at: https://terrorismlegislationreviewer.independent.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Report-on-the-Terrorism-Acts-in-2012-FINAL_WEB1.pdf.
Godec, S. & Lipscombe, S., 2017. Proscribed Terrorist Organizations, Available at: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00815/SN00815.pdf.
Lord Alton, 2007. Appeal No: PC/02/2006 Date of Hearing: 23rd-31st July 2007 Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, Available at: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/PC022006-PMOI-FINAL-JUDGMENT.pdf.
Nimmons, S., 2017. Military counter-terrorism techniques: suitability and effectiveness as policy instruments, London. Available at: https://www.nimmonsconsulting.com/military-counter-terrorism-techniques/ [Accessed October 8, 2017].
Powell, J., 2015. Talking to terrorists : how to end armed conflicts, London: Vintage.
The Telegraph, 2017. What is National Action and why is the neo-Nazi group banned? The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/national-action-neo-nazi-group-banned/ [Accessed October 8, 2017].
U.K. Government, 2017a. PREVENTION AND SUPPRESSION OF TERRORISM: The Proscribed Organisations (Name Changes) (No. 2) Order 2017, UK. Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/34/pdfs/uksi_20100034_en.pdf.
U.K. Government, 2017b. Proscribed Terrorist Organisations, Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/648405/Proscription_website.pdf.
Suggested further reading:
Key issues in the design of robust and ethical counter-terrorism policy in a liberal democracy (unpacks CONTEST2, discussing PREVENT strategy in a wider context):
The Counter Terrorism Division of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) website includes details of successful terrorist prosecutions since 2006. The number of proscribed organisations versus the number of convictions appertaining to those organisations makes for interesting analysis.