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Legal body welcomes new counter-terrorism bills

Legal body welcomes new counter-terrorism bills

Stuart Clark

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) has commended the government for taking a stronger stance on terrorism, but noted further parliamentary scrutiny is necessary.

Late last week Attorney-General George Brandis QC introduced two counter-terrorism bills to ensure Australian laws are “as strong and up-to-date as possible”, better enabling police and intelligence agencies to fight terrorism.

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 was the first of the two introduced by Mr Brandis.

It will see the age at which a person of security concern can have a control order placed on them reduced from 16 years old to 14.

“Regrettably, children as young as 14 have been involved in terrorism-related activities,” Mr Brandis said.

“This bill recognises this reality and the need for appropriate safeguards. It modernises the control order regime by creating new targeted physical search, telecommunications interception and surveillance device regimes to help monitor those subject to control orders, and better protecting sensitive information in control order proceedings while ensuring appropriate safeguards, such as providing special advocates when needed.”

The legislation also implements all 21 recommendations of the bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), which reviewed an earlier version of the bill.

While LCA president Stuart Clark AM welcomed the inclusion of a special advocate regime in the new bill, he said the government needed to commit to an immediate review of the scheme by the PJCIS.

“A special advocate regime provides a significant safeguard. The special advocate will be able to see the sensitive information that has been withheld from the subject of a control order and make representations on behalf of that person. This is essential, given that a person’s legal representative will also be excluded from accessing certain information,” Mr Clark said.

“For full accountability, however, the scheme must be immediately reviewed by the PJCIS. The exact relationship and level of interaction between the special advocate, the subject of the control order and their legal representative requires careful consideration.”

Mr Brandis also introduced the Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2016.

“The High Risk Terrorist Offenders Bill amends Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 to create a new regime, to enable a Supreme Court, upon application by the Attorney-General, to make an order for the ongoing detention of high-risk terrorist offenders who are approaching the end of their custodial sentences and are about to be released into the community,” Mr Brandis said.

“The court must be satisfied to a high degree of probability, on the basis of admissible evidence, that the offender poses an unacceptably high risk of committing a serious terrorism offence if released.

“The Council of Australian Governments agreed in April that the Commonwealth should lead in creating this nationally consistent scheme. The state and territory Attorneys-General agreed in principle to the Commonwealth’s draft bill on 5 August 2016, and continue to work with us on this important initiative.”

Mr Clark noted that it is essential that this bill is also reviewed by the PJCIS.

“Parliamentary committee review is necessary to ensure the right balance is struck between protecting Australians while ensuring fundamental legal rights are not jettisoned,” he said.

“Retaining individuals in prison past the time of their custodial sentence is a serious matter and the highest order of scrutiny should apply.”

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