In the decade and a half since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the global response to terrorism has led to a marked increase in both domestic and international anti-terrorism laws and counter-terrorism practices. Some of the measures introduced since 2001 – such as administrative detention, citizenship stripping, extraordinary rendition and targeted killings – represent some of the most rights restrictive measures available to states in the fight against terrorism. But the global proliferation of anti-terrorism laws and the militarisation of counter-terrorism practices has not been matched by a similar expansion in accountability, oversight and review. The comparative counter-terrorism project seeks to examine both the domestic state legislative responses to terrorism since 9/11 and the practices of counter-terrorism review.

Independent Reviewers of Anti-Terrorism Laws

One area of counter-terrorism review that has developed in recent years has been that of bodies established to provide independent review of state anti-terrorism laws. An office of independent review of anti-terrorism laws has existed in the UK since the mid-1980s. It was introduced in response to parliamentary concerns that the temporary legislation to counter terrorist activity emanating from Northern Ireland was being renewed annually with little oversight or opportunity for amendment. The reviewer was tasked with examining the operation of the anti-terrorism powers to inform parliamentary debate on the renewal of the laws. The role was retained in 2000 when the temporary legislation was replaced with a permanent Terrorism Act, and has undergone a number of changes in the twenty-first century in line with the evolving counter-terrorism landscape post-9/11.

The UK is no longer the only state with an independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws, the office has been considered a model for other jurisdictions. An Independent National Security Legislation Monitor was established in Australia in 2010 largely modelled on the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. A similar office has been proposed for Canada as part of wide-sweeping reforms of the oversight regime. The UK’s office of Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation has thus acted as a framework for other jurisdictions to introduce (or consider introducing) similar review mechanisms. This project evaluates the effectiveness of the Australian office of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the UK’s office of Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation to determine whether a similar office would be a useful addition to Canada’s counter-terrorism review regime. It does so by asking a number of key questions:

  • What do independent reviewers of terrorism laws do?
  • How effective are they at performing this role?
  • What other purposes do independent reviewers serve?
  • What other constitutional mechanisms exist to review anti-terrorism laws?
  • Are independent reviewers a useful or necessary addition to a state’s counter-terrorism review regime?

Resources on Counter-Terrorism Review

Legislative Responses to the ‘Foreign Fighters’ Phenomenon

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, states have responded to the threat from terrorism by enacting a range of anti-terrorism laws designed to help prevent and prosecute terrorism and terrorist-related activity. The emergence of the so-called Islamic State in the conflict in Syria and Iraq in 2014 has, however, created new security concerns, particularly relating to the issue of ‘foreign fighters’ – citizens who engage in, and return from, hostile activities in foreign countries, or who train with terrorist groups overseas. Whilst the nature of the terrorist threat might be considered new, domestic state responses to that threat, in the form of new anti-terrorism laws, has not demonstrated a significant evolution in thinking about counter-terrorism.

This part of the project adopts a comparative lens to examine how states have responded legislatively to the threat from foreign fighters since 2014. Drawing initially on two case studies – Australia and the UK – the project aims to set contemporary responses to terrorism in their broader social, political and historical contexts.

Parts of this research are being conducted in conjuction with Dr Nicola McGarrity, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of New South Wales, and with Dr Tamara Tulich, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Western Australia.

Counter-Terrorism Review Project

Since 1 October 2017, Dr Jessie Blackbourn has been ​working with Professor Fiona de Londras and Dr Lydia Morgan (University of Birmingham) on a project on Counter-Terrorism Review in the UK funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. More details are available on the project's website or twitter.