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Legal Briefing about the Nature of Charge the Stansted 15 faced

Posted on 7th February 2019

There has been much focus in the media on the nature of the charge faced by the Stansted 15. Our position, as set out in Court and will be argued in due course in the Court of Appeal, is that this is terror related legislation. Further, it was not appropriate for the Attorney General to give consent to the prosecution.

What were the Stansted 15 charged with?

The Stansted15 were prosecuted with endangering safety at an aerodrome, contrary to section 1(2)(b) of the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990 (“AMSA”).

Section 1 of the Act is in Part I of the act, dealing with “Aviation Security”. It provides as follows (emphasis added).

(1) It is an offence for any person by means of any device, substance or weapon intentionally to commit at an aerodrome serving international civil aviation any act of violence which –

(a) causes or is likely to cause death or serious personal injury, and
(b) endangers or is likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome.

(2) It is also, subject to subsection (4) below, an offence for any person by means of any device, substance or weapon unlawfully and intentionally –

(a) to destroy or seriously to damage –

(i) property used for the provision of any facilities at an aerodrome serving international civil aviation (including any apparatus or equipment so used), or
(ii) any aircraft which is at such an aerodrome but is not in service, or

(b) to disrupt the services of such an aerodrome,
in such a way as to endanger or be likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome.

Background to the Legislation

As determined by the Crown Court at Chelmsford, section 1 AMSA implements into domestic law the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Aviation (“Montreal Protocol’), an international counter-terrorism convention, which supplemented the earlier 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of International Aviation (“Montreal Convention”).

This is confirmed in the introductory text to AMSA, which provides as follows (emphasis added):

An Act to give effect to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation which supplements the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation; to make further provision with respect to aviation security and civil aviation; to give effect to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf which supplements that Convention; to make other provision for the protection of ships and harbour areas against acts of violence; and for connected purposes.”

The following comments were made by ministers in Parliament during the passage of the legislation:

  • “One of the hallmarks of this Government has been their determination to stand firm against the terrorist. We have never shied away from taking the measures necessary to crush the threat of terrorism—be it on the international stage or at home. This Bill will be another valuable weapon in the battle. It will help to combat international terrorism in the sky and at sea.”
  •  “Clause 1 (which became section 1) deals with what are essentially terrorist acts at airports. It enables the Government to ratify the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Montreal protocol of 1988, which we signed in October that year. The protocol commits us to making it an offence under our law to carry out armed attacks at international airports and to cause damage or disruption at such airports. The protocol provides for severe penalties for these offences. In relevant cases offenders can also be extradited.”1 (emphasis added)
  • The purpose of this Bill is to provide another weapon in the fight against international terrorism in the air and at sea. It was almost a year ago that the then Secretary of State for Transport announced in another place that he intended to seek new powers for Parliament in order to secure more effective implementation of aviation security measures. I believe that this Bill provided these powers. It also extends to maritime activities similar powers to those currently available and proposed for aviation security. I shall deal firstly with aviation security and then with maritime security…
  • Clause 1 enables the Government to ratify the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Montreal Protocol of 1988, which we signed in October 1988. This protocol commits the Government to make it an offence under our own law for any person to carry out armed attacks at any international airport and to cause damage or disruption at such an airport.”2 (emphasis added)

The legislation was introduced in the wake of the Lockerbie bombing. Parliamentary debates concerning the bill record no fewer than 26 references in the House of Commons (HC Deb 10 January 1990 vol 164 cc956-94 (“HC Hansard”)) to the Lockerbie disaster and 10 such references in the House of Lords (HL Deb 05 April 1990 vol 517 cc1586-600).

How the offence is treated domestically

Domestically, a crime contrary to s.1(2)(b) AMSA is a “Convention offence” for the purposes of the Terrorism Act 2006 (“TA 2006”), as per TA 2006, sch.1, s.7.

Consequently, a statement likely to be understood as encouraging or “glorifying” a breach of s.1(2)(b) AMSA would constitute the crime of encouragement of terrorism, contrary to s.1 TA 2006, which constitutes a substantive offence thereunder. Similarly, the provision of training that would assist in the commission of a breach of s.1(2)(b) AMSA, or attendance at a place where such training is provided, would give rise to terrorist offences contrary to s.6 TA 2006.

Conclusion

The information above makes clear that this legislation was introduced in order to enact into domestic legislation the provisions of an international counter-terrorism convention, which is terror related and in our view should not have been used against peaceful protestors.

Hodge Jones & Allen would like to thank all counsel who have advised on this case, in particular Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers who took the lead on this aspect of the case.

If there are any questions about this, or any other terror related queries, please contact Raj Chada at rchada@hja.net or on 02078748367.

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