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The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008
UK Government Coat of Arms
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Long title: An Act to confer further powers to gather and share information for counter-terrorism and other purposes; to make further provision about the detention and questioning of terrorist suspects and the prosecution and punishment of terrorist offences; to impose notification requirements on persons convicted of such offences; to confer further powers to act against terrorist financing, money laundering and certain other activities; to provide for review of certain Treasury decisions and about evidence in, and other matters connected with, review proceedings; to amend the law relating to inquiries; to amend the definition of “terrorism”; to amend the enactments relating to terrorist offences, control orders and the forfeiture of terrorist cash; to provide for recovering the costs of policing at certain gas facilities; to amend provisions about the appointment of special advocates in Northern Ireland; and for connected purposes. 9
Statute book chapter: 2008 c.28
Date of Royal Assent: 26 November 2008
Status: Current legislation
History of passage through Parliament
Text of statute as originally enacted
Official text of the statute as amended and in force today within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database

The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (c.28) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which increased police powers for the stated purpose of countering terrorism. The first reading of the bill was held in January 2008, and it received royal assent on 26 November 2008 following an episode of Parliamentary ping-pong on some of its most controversial issues.[1]


Provisions of the Act

The Act as passed contains various notable provisions:[2]

  • Removal of the prohibition on post-charge questioning.
  • Longer terrorism sentences.
  • A register and monitoring for those convicted of terrorism related offences, similar to the Violent and Sex Offender Register.
  • Changes to some of the rules surrounding the use of "intercept evidence".
  • Powers to seize the assets of convicted terrorists.
  • Police will be able to remove documents from a property search to decide whether or not they need to be legally seized as part of an investigation.
  • Greater use of DNA samples, and powers to allow the police to take fingerprints or DNA from those subject to a control order (these orders are civil restraints, not criminal offences).

Photographs of police officers in public places

The protest outside New Scotland Yard, February 2009

Section 76 (Offences relating to information about members of armed forces etc) came into force on 15 February 2009[3] making it an offence to elicit, attempt to elicit, or publish information "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" about:[4]

Any person found guilty faces 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.[4] It is a defence for a person charged with this offence to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action.[4]

There are exemptions for communications service providers, web caches and web hosting services.[5]

Journalists who feared that this law would be abused by the police to threaten the taking of photographs of their activities[6][7][8] staged a mass protest outside Scotland Yard in February 2009.[9] Gordon Brown reaffirmed that the police have a legal right to restrict photography in public places, and stated "the law applies to photographers as it does to anybody else in a public place"[6]. The act however does not lay out restrictions for the photography of Community Support Officers as they do not hold the office of Constable.

The Parliamentary debate on this law was limited owing to the fact that in earlier versions of the Bill the offence of eliciting or publishing information "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" only applied to people who were or had been members of Her Majesty’s Forces, and not to the police[10]. This was also the case throughout the debate in the Standing Committee.[11]

(An opposition amendment changing the phrase "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" with the words "with the intention that it is useful..." was withdrawn after the Minister explained that the clause merely restated earlier laws applying to the armed forces on which there was already case law[12] that made it more reasonable than it appeared.)[11]

The law against eliciting or publishing information "likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism" was extended to encompass police constables in a raft of unscrutinized amendments[13] that passed into the Bill at the end of the debate when the Parliamentary timetable (which had been voted on earlier in the day)[14] expired.

When this clause was scrutinized in the House of Lords,[15] and in all subsequent debates, no reference was made to the extension of the law to include police constables.

A Parliamentary written question about the policy regarding police preventing members of the public from taking photographs in public places hasn't been answered.[16]

Abandoned provisions


42 day terrorist detention without charge

The highest profile provision in the Counter-Terrorism Bill was a measure to allow terrorist suspects to be detained by police for up to 42 days before being charged (formally told what law they were accused of breaking). This was a re-run of 90 day terrorist detention without charge debate that occurred in 2006 that was narrowly lost by a vote in Parliament.

The crunch vote[17] on the issue occurred on 11 June 2008 with a 36 Labour MP rebellion that would have defeated the government had the Democratic Unionist Party block, who normally vote with the Conservative Party, not voted for it.[18] Allegations of a political bribe for these votes[19] were denied.[20]

The day after the vote, the Conservative front bench Home Affairs spokesman, David Davis suddenly resigned from Parliament in protest and won re-election to his seat in by-election in which none of the other main parties stood a candidate.

On 13 October 2008 this measure was dropped from the Bill by a vote in the House of Lords.[21][22]

Rather than reverse this defeat with another difficult vote in the House of Commons, the Government drafted The Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Bill that would stand "ready to be introduced if and when the need arises."[23]

Secret coroner's inquests

A provision in the Bill to give the Government powers to certify that a coroner's inquest should be held in secret without a jury in the interests of national security or foreign relations[24] raised enough opposition outside of Parliament[25] that the measure was also dropped.[26]

These measures, however, reappeared in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.[27]


  1. ^ "Counter-Terrorism Bill 2007-08". House of Commons.  
  2. ^
  3. ^ "The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2009".  
  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Documenting dissent is under attack". 12 February 2009.  
  9. ^ "Is it a crime to take pictures?". BBC News. 16 February 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2010.  
  10. ^ "Clause 69 - Offences relating to information about members of armed forces - Counter-Terrorism Bill". 24 January 2009.  
  11. ^ a b "Public Bill Committee - Counter-Terrorism Bill - 13th Sitting". 15 May 2008.  
  12. ^ "R v K [2008 EWCA Crim 185; [2008] WLR (D) 47 (Appeal Court)"]. 13 February 2008.  
  13. ^ "Clause 71 - offences relating to information about members of armed forces". 10 June 2008.  
  14. ^ "Counter-Terrorism Bill - Timetable". The Public Whip. 10 June 2008.  
  15. ^ Baroness Falkner of Margravine (21 October 2008). "Counter-Terrorism Bill - Committee 4th sitting".  
  16. ^ Bob Spink MP (26 November 2008). "Photography: Public Places".  
  17. ^ "Brown wins crunch vote on 42 days". BBC. June 11, 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2010.  
  18. ^ "Counter-Terrorism Bill - Extension of period of detention to 42 days - Process". The Public Whip. 11 June 2008.  
  19. ^ "Gordon Brown ‘bribes’ Unionists to back 42-day terror vote". London: The Times. 1 June 2008.  
  20. ^ "No deals on 42 days, says Brown". BBC. 12 June 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2010.  
  21. ^ "Peers throw out 42-day detention.". BBC. October 13th, 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2010.  
  22. ^ "Counter-Terrorism Bill - No extension of period of detention beyond 28 days". 13 October 2008.  
  23. ^ Jaqui Smith MP (13 October 2008). "Counter-Terrorism Bill".  
  24. ^ "Clause 64 - Certificate requiring inquest to be held without a jury - Counter Terrorism Bill". 24 January 2008.  
  25. ^ "Uproar at plan to hold inquests in secret". London: The Times. 12 August 2008.  
  26. ^ "Government abandons secret inquests in terror bill". The Guardian. 15 October 2008.  
  27. ^ "Secret inquest plans brought back". BBC. 14 January 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2010.  

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