'Terrorism' is a term which evokes fear due to the multitude of horrific images which have been seared into the public consciousness over previous decades, from 7/7 to the Charlie Hebdo murders. Although an objective assessment of the number of victims who suffer from terrorist attacks indicates that this response is disproportionate, it has nevertheless had an impact upon the creation of public policy. In my dissertation, I sought to explore how the British government has struggled to maintain the security of the state against this backdrop whilst ensuring personal liberty. From this, I was able to examine how British anti-terror laws impacted individuals in certain sections of society. In doing so, Professor Paddy Hillyard's 'suspect community' framework provided a conceptual backdrop through which I was able to frame my arguments.
Firstly, I analysed how the British government reacted to the domestic Irish terror threat between 1974 and 2000. I found that the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974 was brought about due to public clamour for legislation following an increase in sectarian violence after 'Bloody Sunday' and the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974. The centrepiece of this legislation was section 14, which afforded the police the ability to arrest any individual who they suspected of being engaged in terrorist activity. With an analysis of post-2000s legislation, I found that the response to domestic Islamic terror threats which emerged in the Noughties entrenched this extensive power, as is evidenced in section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000. It is also telling that the 9/11 attacks brought about a hasty reaction by the British government, as is manifested by section 23 of the ATCS Act 2001. Through later judicial intervention in the case of A, this power was deemed as incompatible with the ECHR, however the introduction of 'Control Orders' in 2005 later attempted to provide an alternative way to monitor terrorist activity. The consequence of the cumulative building up of anti-terror legislation was that ostensible 'security' increased, but the impact of this on certain communities was not properly assessed by successive governments.
My dissertation therefore found that in both the pre- and post-2000 periods, pre-emptive justice acted to pre-criminalise both Irish and Islamic communities. It was found that in both periods, governments were susceptible to viewing liberty and security as divisible concepts. The reality is that although suggesting restrictive legislation had the impact of radicalising individuals proves an overly-simplistic argument, legislation certainly led to the disenfranchisement of specific innocent communities. In the Irish experience, it was found that only 1.76% of those charged under section 14 were later convicted, highlighting the sheer volume of individuals who were criminalised, despite innocence, in the fight against terror. Furthermore, it was shown that in relation to Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 stop-and-search powers, a hugely disproportionate number of Black and Asian individuals were affected. With reference to focus groups undertaken by Dr. Helen Fenwick, it was highlighted that these individuals believed they were stopped primarily due to their race.
Anti-terror laws have developed primarily to protect the public, yet have had the impact of often harming the interests of certain innocent communities. It is likely that this will not cease over the coming years, as the ability to pin down those with radical tendencies becomes even more fragmented due to the emergent threat of ISIS-inspired individuals seeking to partake in lone wolf-style attacks. It is hoped, however, that legislators will be increasingly aware of how laws impact communities and seek to act appropriately.