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. Furthermore, those mechanisms that do exist, such as parliamentary committees, ad hoc inquiries, independent reviewers, oversight commissioners, inspectors general, and internal review mechanisms, tend to operate in silos, reviewing just one aspect of counter-terrorism, such as anti-terrorism laws or the activities of intelligence or security agencies. The practice of counter-terrorism review is fragmented, largely opaque and patchy.

The counter-terrorism review project seeks to uncover these various mechanisms of review, identify which counter-terrorism practices are under-reviewed, or not reviewed at all, and evaluate whether they are effective. It adopts an empirical and comparative approach to do so, focusing predominantly on Australia, Canada, and the UK.

There are two main parts to the project:

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. Whilst an office of independent reviewer has existed in the UK since the mid-1980s, reflecting the UK’s long history of enacting laws in response to terrorism, its remit and activities has evolved significantly since September 2001. The UK is no longer the only state with an independent reviewer of anti-terrorism laws. In 2011, a new office of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, largely modelled on the UK’s independent reviewer, was established in Australia.

The two offices share similar functions and objectives; they must report to government the results of their reviews on the ongoing operation, effectiveness, necessity and human rights implications of the state’s anti-terrorism legislation for the purpose of informing parliament’s anti-terrorism law-making. This project asks whether either office has been successful at doing so, raising questions in the process as to the effectiveness of independent review as an accountability mechanism in the terrorism context.

Comparative Counter-Terrorism Review

The research project seeks to uncover and evaluate the existing counter-terrorism review practices in two Commonwealth states: Australia and Canada. The aim is three-fold: first, to identify which state counter-terrorism practices are reviewed and by whom, and to highlight where counter-terrorism is under-reviewed, or not reviewed at all. Secondly, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these mechanisms of counter-terrorism review against principles which underpin a normatively sound system of accountability. And third, to propose reforms to the existing systems of counter-terrorism review.


  • Nicola McGarrity and Blackbourn, 'Anti-Terrorism Laws and Human Rights' in Leanne Weber, Elaine Fishwick and Marinella Marmo (eds), The Routledge International Handbook of Criminology and Human Rights (Routledge 2016)