Government and policy-makers should work with international NGOs and charities to stop anti-terror laws obstructing charitable work, according to the government’s independent reviewer of the legislation.
David Anderson QC was appointed in February 2011 by the government to produce annual independent reviews of the Terrorism Act 2000 and part 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006. The fourth annual review was laid before parliament and published online today.
The report says: "There is a risk that necessary anti-terrorism laws will be given a bad name if they result in avoidable restrictions on the ability of NGOs to conduct vital humanitarian and peace-building operations in parts of the world from which terrorism emanates."
It says that people working for charities or NGOs might carry out what could be defined as criminal offences as created by anti-terror legislation. In particular, people whose work brings them in contact with proscribed terrorist groups might be seen as committing a crime, despite the fact that, as the report says, it is often necessary for people to interact with such groups in the context of their work.
The report notes that there are concerns in the sector about banks "withdrawing or curtailing services to NGOs, resulting in delays or obstacles to the transfer of funds".
Anderson's report says: "I recommend that a dialogue be initiated between international NGOs and policy-makers, including in the Home Office and Treasury, with a view to exploring how the objectives of anti-terrorism law can be met without unnecessarily prejudicing the ability of NGOs to deliver humanitarian aid, capacity-building and peace-building."
He said in a statement that although the UK had tough laws against terrorism, these would enjoy public support only if they were used when necessary and did not result in negative side-effects.
Anderson’s post of independent reviewer is shortly to be replaced by an Independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Board.
Abdurahman Sharif, operations manager at the Muslim Charities Forum, which represents 10 of the UK’s biggest Muslim charities, said he welcomed the recommendation of dialogue.
Sharif said: "An immense amount of dialogue and work needs to take place between the sector and government to reduce the securitisation of the charity sector and begin a shift to where NGOs can work safely without fear from both proscribed groups and also stringent regulation that does nothing for humanitarian efforts in affected parts of the world."
There has been a rise over the past year in the number of concerns about charities being abused for terrorist purposes.
In April William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, said Islamic extremism was "potentially the most deadly" of all the problems faced by the regulator; and Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the chief executives body Acevo, said there was a perception that the commission had a disproportionate focus on Muslim charities.