The UK government has announced that it will be introducing mandatory polygraph examinations on Very High/High risk of Serious Harm terrorist offenders as part of the Counter Terrorism Bill. The proposed policy will require those who meet all the eligibility criteria to take a polygraph test three months post-release and every six months thereafter, unless the test is failed. The objective of this article is to provide a detailed overview of the Counter Terrorism Bill and mandatory polygraph tests, including how the tests work, who will be subject to testing, quality assurance measures, case examples, and potential challenges to human rights.

How Polygraph Tests Work

Polygraph examinations are used to measure the physiological changes in the body when an individual being tested is asked certain questions. The polygraph instrument measures changes in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and sweat. The changes to the individual’s normal rates can indicate that the subject is attempting to be deceptive. Polygraph tests are used to monitor compliance with license conditions and the information obtained during testing is used by offender managers to refine and improve risk management plans. Experienced and qualified Probation Officers trained as accredited examiners to the standards set by the American Polygraph Association conduct the tests.

Who Will Be Subject to Testing?

The proposed policy will require mandatory polygraph examinations for offenders who meet the following criteria:

• Aged 18 years and over
• Male and Female
• Assessed as Very High/High risk of serious harm using nationally accredited risk assessment tools.
• Convicted of a specified terrorist offence or a specified offence with a terrorism connection.
• The offender is sentenced to a term of custody of 12 months or more and released on licence.
• The legislation in relation to polygraph testing will apply retrospectively so will apply to those offenders who are already sentenced who meet the criteria.

In addition, there will be a discretionary group who can also be made subject to mandatory testing, including those who meet the legal criteria but do not necessarily meet the policy position of High Risk of Serious Harm. This cohort will include those where there are sufficient concerns about the offender’s risk of re-offending, so as to justify mandatory testing and ensuring it is ‘necessary and proportionate’ to manage the risk that the offender poses in the community. All types of terrorists will be tested.

Can Offenders Be Recalled to Custody for Failing a Polygraph Examination?

Offenders subject to testing cannot be recalled to custody for failing a polygraph test, however, they can be recalled for making disclosures during the test that reveal they have breached other license conditions or that their risk has escalated to a level whereby they can no longer be safely managed in the community. Those failing the test will be tested more frequently, and additional, stringent measures can be imposed such as additional license conditions or formal warnings. Information gathered from a failed examination will be routinely shared with the police who are able to conduct further investigations that may or may not result in charges being made. Where charges are made, the offender will be recalled to custody. Offenders who attempt to ‘trick’ the polygraph test or who refuse to take it can be recalled to custody.

Quality Assurance and Training

The UK government has contracted ‘Behavioural Measures’ to provide training for polygraph examiners to the American Polygraph Association Standards. Quality assurance measures for polygraph reports and charts are in place. All examiners are required to complete an additional 30 hours of CPD via the APA. The National Probation Service has also appointed and trained four qualified Probation Officers, experienced in managing high-risk offenders, to be qualified polygraph examiners. In addition, specialist training and supervision for polygraph examiners testing terrorist offenders will be provided internally