Professor Richard Ekins argues for a new law of treason

Professor Richard Ekins

The complex issues around how to deal with those who support terrorist groups and are guilty of terrorism both inside and outside the UK have crystallised over the past few weeks in discussion of the case of Shamima Begum.

Professor Richard Ekins, Tutorial Fellow in Law, has recently argued that the UK needs a new treason law to deal with such cases. He wrote (Sunday Telegraph) that Parliament should ‘restore the law of treason, specifying that it is treason to support a group that one knows intends to attack the UK or is fighting UK forces’.

The article picked up on issues raised in a paper co-authored by Professor Ekins (with Tom Tugendhat MP, Khalid Mahmood MP, and barrister and former army officer Patrick Hennessey) last year for the think-tank Policy Exchange, Aiding the Enemy: How and why to restore the law of treason. The paper has been highlighted during debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons, and on radio and TV news programmes. It continues to prompt debate with recent mentions in the Mirrorthe Daily Mail and on Conservative Home.

The paper recommends 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] 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. " Former Justice Minister Lord Faulks QC