Parliament should update the law on treason, argues a new paper published by the think-tank Policy Exchange. The paper Aiding the Enemy: How and why to restore the law of treason, is co-authored by Associate Professor Richard Ekins along with Tom Tugendhat MP, Khalid Mahmood MP, and barrister and former army officer Patrick Hennessey. 

The paper, published in July, opens with a foreword from Lord Judge, former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and the paper itself is endorsed by Amber Rudd MP, former Home Secretary, Lord Evans of Weardale, former Director General of the Security Service, Sir Richard Walton, former Commander at New Scotland Yard and Head of the Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) between 2011 and 2016, Sir Stephen Laws KCB QC, former First Parliamentary Counsel and Sir Noel Malcolm FRSL FBA, Senior Research Fellow, All Soul’s College, Oxford.

The authors recommend that:

  • Parliament should enact a new offence which would revive the law of treason and recognise that betrayal – treason – is a clear moral wrong.
  • This would specify that it is an offence to aid a state or organisation that is attacking the UK or preparing to attack the UK or against which UK forces are engaged in armed conflict.
  • This should apply to the actions of anyone in the UK; it should also apply to the actions of British citizens or settled non-citizens anywhere in the world.
  • In most cases, people convicted of treason should be sentenced to life imprisonment, a sentence which reflects the gravity of the wrong of betrayal, deters others, and incapacitates the offender.
  • At a minimum, Parliament should reform our law to follow Australia and New Zealand and thus make it clear that it is unlawful to aid the enemy either in an international armed conflict or in a non-international armed conflict.

The paper was widely covered in the media at the time, including on the Today Programme. In August Professor Ekins published a short follow-up piece, discussing the paper’s relevance to the case of Lewis Ludlow. He also appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire programme, on BBC2, to discuss the paper’s relevance to the imminent release of Anjem Choudary.

Yesterday, the first day back after Parliamentary recess, the paper was raised by two former minsters in the House of Lords in the course of the debate about the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill.

Former Defence and Northern Ireland Secretary Rt Hon Lord King noted: ‘One interesting suggestion has been promoted by Policy Exchange to meet the challenge of those who are betraying our country and are going out to fight and kill our forces. Australia and New Zealand have already taken action against people who are aiding the enemy by adapting the ancient law of treason to give a penalty of life imprisonment for people in that situation.’

Later in the debate, former Justice Minister Lord Faulks QC added ‘I also commend the recent Policy Exchange publication, Aiding the Enemy: How and why to restore the law of treason. Its authors include two Members of Parliament, one Labour and one Conservative, and it has a foreword by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. It provides a compelling case for the return to the statute book of a modern law of treason—the 1351 statute is plainly no longer fit for purpose.’