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Longer jail terms for terrorist offences revealed

Tougher sentences have been confirmed for extremists who view terrorist material online.

People who encourage terrorism or view extremist material online will face longer jail terms under new court rules.

Revised sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of terrorism offences in England and Wales have been published by the Sentencing Council.

Advice for Crown Courts has been updated to cover offenders who view material over the internet or download it to use in a specific terrorist act.

They will now face up to 14 years in custody.

The changes follow cases including Salman Abedi, the Manchester Arena bomber, who acted on his own but is assumed to have made others aware of his plans.

Counter terrorism leads have also been warning over the last three years that far-right groups have also been targeting vulnerable people on the web to incite them into carrying out offences.

The revised guidelines also include:

But there is also new advice on exceptional circumstances such as an offender who is a teenager with a learning disability who has been radicalised online.  

Exceptions include:

• Good character and/or exemplary conduct
• Offender involved through coercion, intimidation or exploitation
• Offender’s responsibility substantially reduced by mental disorder or learning disability
• Age and/or lack of maturity.

It’s a contentious area. The case last year of Ben John was referred to the Court of Appeal over an unduly lenient sentence for obtaining terrorist material.

He was sentenced to two years in prison having first been ordered by a judge to read English literature classics including Jane Austin as part of a supervision order.

The revisions, which will come into force on 1 October 2022, update the current guidelines – published in 2018 – and reflect increases in maximum sentences and other changes brought in by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 and the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021.

Sentencing Council member, Mrs Justice McGowan, said: “Terrorism offences are thankfully rare but they are serious and can cover a wide range of factual circumstances, making them difficult and sensitive offences to sentence.

“These revised guidelines will ensure consistency and transparency in the sentencing of these offences.”

*The Lord Chancellor has announced the appointment of Elaine Freer as a non-judicial member of the Sentencing Council. Dr Freer is a barrister who prosecutes and defends criminal cases. She also holds an academic post at Robinson College in the University of Cambridge."

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