UK government unveils lie detector test for convicted terrorists, amid criticism for 'anti-science gimmick'

UK government unveils lie detector test for convicted terrorists, amid criticism for 'anti-science gimmick'
Under a new anti-terrorism bill terrorists released from prison may be instructed to undergo regular polygraph tests as a form of monitoring.
3 min read
21 January, 2020
The government plans to make changing in the coming weeks [Getty]

An upcoming anti-terrorism bill due to be introduced in a few weeks seeks to monitor convicted terrorists who have been released from prison, the government said.

Terror offenders could be forced to undertake "polygraph testing" or lie detector tests - currently only used with sex offenders - to improve how probation workers deal with people convicted of terror offenses who have been released.

Tougher sentences could be given to those convicted of terrorism, and early release will also be scrapped, meaning those not deemed to be a risk will still have to serve two-thirds of their sentence.

New legislation comes after the London Bridge attacks rocked the nation late last year: Usman Khan, who killed Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, had been released from prison on license in December when he was halfway through a 16-year prison sentence.

The Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill represents a "major overhaul" of the current system.

Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt were killed in the London Bridge attack [Met]

Other measures in the new counter-terrorism legislation includes extending convictions to serious offenses like preparing acts of terrorism to at least 14 years in prison, doubling the number of counter terrorism probation officers and providing £500,000 to support victims of terrorism.

This move comes as figures show there were 44 convictions for terrorism offences from beginning of last year to the end of September, including 17 offenders being sent to prison for between four and ten years.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News' Kay Burley Breakfast Show that lie detectors were important to identify terror offenders, such as Khan, who are "in effect sleepers for many years".

"We get a lot of people who are superficially very compliant with the regime and sometimes the assessment of risk is a really difficult thing to do," he said.

"You can get people who are in effect sleepers for many years and then suddenly back come the hatreds and the prejudices and we see atrocities like the one we did at Fishmongers' Hall.

"Which is why I think the introduction of polygraphs, the lie testing devices which are already being used in sex offenders, improves the tools that we have in terms of trying to assess that risk, to minimise that risk."

'Lie detector controversy'

Not everyone is convinced by these new measures.

David Merrett, the father of London Bridge victim Jack Merritt condemned the government for its "cynical, headline-grabbing gimmick".

Taking to Twitter, he wrote: "Lie-detector tests planned for convicted terrorists freed on licence.

"Is this the kind of blue sky thinking Cummings promised us his new generation of 'weirdo' advisers would come up with - or a cynical, headline-grabbing gimmick to distract our attention?"

Paul Bernal, professor of law, criticised the government for a decision he called "anti-science".

"Bringing in lie detectors is in perfect alignment with the rest of government policy: it goes against evidence, it's anti-science, populist and likely to result in abject failure."

Results from a polygraph test cannot be used in the courts to prove a case in the UK and most states in America.

Lie detectors are used in the UK by parole officers in England and Wales, and such tests form a mandatory part of the offender’s release conditions.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay connected