The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

In undertaking our initial mapping exercise, we identified a number of institutions and actors that conduct counter-terrorism review in the UK. In the current phase of our research, we are gathering data about each of these counter-terrorism review bodies, to identify information such as the mandate of the institution or actor, their terms of reference, power and duties, reporting requirements, and any formal or informal links or interactions they might have with other counter-terrorism review bodies. One of these such bodies is the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, an office which was first established in the mid-1980s, but which has undergone significant change in the twenty-first century.

An annual review of anti-terrorism legislation was first established in 1984, during the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. To head off an amendment which sought to incorporate a commission of inquiry into the text of the legislation, Lord Elton proposed that it would instead be subject to an annual renewal by Parliament, which would be preceded by a review of the Act. Lord Elton outlined the terms of reference that would apply to the reviewer: ‘It would be his task to look at the use made of the powers under the Act. To consider, for example, whether he saw emerging any change in the pattern of their use which required to be drawn to the attention of Parliament’. Lord Elton also noted that the reviewer would ‘have access to relevant papers’ and ‘ministerial correspondence’ and would ‘have any opportunity he requires for discussions with officials as well as Ministers about any question he might have relating to this material or the statistics recording the use made of the Act’. Sir Cyril Philips was the first person appointed to carry out the review. In 1987, Viscount Colville of Culross took over and in 1988 his remit was extended to also review the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts. The final reviewer of these temporary and emergency laws was JJ Rowe QC, who reviewed the legislation from 1994 to 2001, when it was repealed and replaced by the Terrorism Act 2000.

There was no statutory basis for the review of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Acts and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Acts. Annual review was thus an informal, conventional mechanism. This changed, to some extent, with the enactment of the Terrorism Act 2000, which required the Secretary of State to ‘lay before both Houses of Parliament at least once in every 12 months a report on the working of this Act.’ On the morning of 11 September 2001, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett appointed Lord Carlile of Berriew to provide that annual report.

This marked a new phase in counter-terrorism review in the UK. In response to the upsurge in terrorist violence in the first decade of the twenty-first century, Parliament enacted a raft of new anti-terrorism laws, the most controversial of which required annual reviews. With this development, Lord Carlile’s role as annual reviewer of the Terrorism Act 2000 evolved into the contemporary office of Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. However, it still did not have a single statutory basis, and the terms of reference were still those outlined by Lord Elton in parliament in 1984. Furthermore, the Independent Reviewer did not have a remit to review all of the UK’s anti-terrorism laws, only those with a provision requiring review. Despite the significant increase in the number of laws subject to review by the Independent Reviewer in the first decade of the twenty-first century, the office remained essentially unchanged until 2015, when the ad hoc nature of the independent review of terrorism laws in the UK was overhauled with the enactment of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. To some extent, that Act consolidated and simplified the process of independent review. Today, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation must still provide an annual report on the operation of the Terrorism Act 2000. However, the Reviewer then has the discretion as to which of the UK’s other anti-terrorism laws – if any – to review each year. This marks a significant change from the past, where the Independent Reviewer was required to review the operation of every Act with a review clause on an annual basis.

The UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has thus evolved over a lengthy period of time from an initial informal office of annual review with no basis in statute, to the contemporary office today. This, in part helps to explain why the current provision for Independent Review of anti-terrorism laws in the UK is fragmented. There is no single statute which provides for the appointment process, a mandate, terms of reference, duties, or powers.

In the next part of our research, we aim to gather this information on all of the counter-terrorism review actors and institutions which we have identified so far. This will help us to understand what counter-terrorism activities are currently reviewed, by whom, and how. In doing so, we will highlight any gaps that exist in the UK’s counter-terrorism review machinery.


  1. […] Only five sources of official government information have so far been identified as outlining the role of the Oversight Board.  The June 2011 Prevent Strategy Review, the July 2011 CONTEST Strategy, the statutory guidance published in accordance with the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 , a reference by James Brokenshire MP, then Minister of State for Security and Immigration, in a Commons debate on counter-terrorism in 2015, and a House of Lords written answer by Baroness Williams, the junior minister for Countering Terrorism, responding to a question tabled by Lord Carlile, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism legislation in 2017 (see our previous blog post on this role). […]


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