On 20th October 2023, Sky News reported that four convicted terrorists were sent back to prison following the introduction of mandatory lie detector tests. These tests were instated after the horrifying Fishmonger’s Hall attack that left two Cambridge University graduates dead. Let’s delve into the details of this development and understand its implications.
The 2019 Fishmonger’s Hall attack remains etched in the memories of many. Usman Khan, a 28-year-old convicted terrorist who planned to attack the London Stock Exchange and establish a training camp in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, went on a stabbing spree at a prisoner rehabilitation conference. Among his victims were Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, both graduates of Cambridge University. Khan had been out of prison on licence for over a year, having served only half of a 16-year sentence.
The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021
In response to the attack and to prevent any such events in the future, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021 was introduced. A notable provision of this act was the compulsory lie detector tests for terrorists convicted of relevant offences and granted parole. Between 29th June 2021 and 30th June 2023, 46 individuals were subjected to the polygraph licence condition.
Results of the Polygraph Tests
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) released a report detailing the findings from the lie detector tests. Out of 88 tests performed on 39 people, there was a “significant response” in 31 instances. This “significant response” indicates deceptive behaviour when the person did not tell the truth in response to one or more of the polygraph examination questions. Furthermore, disclosures of risk-related information, which is assessed alongside other risk-relevant data, were recorded in 72% of the examinations. Such revelations have led to the recall of three individuals to prison, while a fourth individual was recalled due to non-compliance with the polygraph licence condition.
Implications and Considerations
The implementation of lie detector tests and the results underline the UK government’s commitment to tightening counter-terrorism measures. However, it also raises questions about the accuracy and ethical implications of lie detector tests, given that polygraphs are not foolproof. The British Polygraph Society remains dedicated to upholding the highest standards of polygraph testing and is closely monitoring the developments and outcomes of these mandatory examinations.
The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act not only introduced lie detector tests but also created a new category of “serious terrorist offences”. The act responded to concerns that offenders convicted of planning attacks received lenient sentences. Now, those found guilty under this new category can face a minimum of 14 years in prison and, in some cases, an extended licence period of up to 25 years.
The mandatory lie detector tests signify a bold move by the UK government to deter potential terror activities and ensure the safety of its citizens. While these tests have proven beneficial in some cases, it’s essential to balance security measures with ethical considerations and ensure that any tools used in the justice system are both accurate and fair.