London, Mar 28 (PTI) The British government issued today new guidelines for handing down sentences in terrorism-related cases, and introduced longer jail terms for suspects caught in the early stages of plotting a terror attack.

Under the ‘Terrorism Offences: Definitive Guideline’ published by the Sentencing Council, offenders found guilty of playing even a minor role in planning a terrorist attack would receive harsher penalties when the new guidelines come into force from April 27.

The new guidelines will keep the same maximum sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum term of 40 years for terrorism-related cases.

However, the new sentencing range for lower-level crimes will be set at three to six years’ imprisonment, up from 21 months to five years.

The guidelines have been introduced to deal with the changing nature of terrorist offending and to ensure that courts have the tools they need to deal with serious cases, punishing offenders and disrupting their activities, the council said.

“Terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts. Offending can include an extremist cell plotting a deadly attack on the public, someone trying to make a bomb or another recruiting for a terrorist organisation,” said Sentencing Council Chairman Lord Justice Treacy.

“As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way our society operates. These threats have evolved and we are ensuring that courts have comprehensive guidance to help them sentence offenders appropriately so they are properly punished and their activities are disrupted,” he said.

The council, under the UK’s Ministry of Justice, said that it had already started work on developing the tougher guidelines before the spate of terrorist attacks that took place in the UK last year. But due to the changing nature of the terrorist threat and the increasing need for comprehensive guidelines, production of the guidelines was accelerated.

A key change applies to offences under Section 5 of the UK’s Terrorism Act 2006, which can be used to prosecute individuals who plan terrorist acts or those who help others in the plotting. In 2016, the Court of Appeal issued guidance for sentences imposed under the section, which has been further updated.

“Attacks in 2017 involved motor vehicles and knives, which mark a change from the more sophisticated kinds of cases that were considered by the Court of Appeal when it produced its guidance for courts. As well as this, the guideline reflects increasing concern about the availability of extremist material online which can lead to people becoming self-radicalised,” the council noted.

In terms of the impact on sentencing levels in England and Wales, the council said that where a terrorist act could be planned in a very short time period, using readily available items such as vehicles as weapons, combined with online extremist material providing encouragement and inspiration, even lower-level offences are more serious than they have previously been perceived.

The guidelines cover a wide range of terrorism offences, including the preparation of terrorist attacks, causing or attempting to cause an explosion, collecting or sharing extremist material, raising funds for terrorism, glorifying terrorist acts, failing to disclose information about terrorist acts and joining or supporting a banned group.

The guidelines do not directly cover offences where death or injury are caused by acts of terrorism since these would be charged as murder or assault, but guidance is included to assist those sentencing such offences where they have a terrorist connection.

The use of encrypted communications and repeated accessing of extremist material are listed as potential “aggravating” factors that can be taken into account when judges weigh up sentences.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.