13 January 2020

Britain's Plans to Revamp the Treason Act

https://www.amazon.com/Spy-Tower-Untold-Joseph-Executed/dp/0750989300
The Spy in the Tower (2019)
(available via Amazon)
Fellow author Tony Percy sent me a link a few weeks ago which piqued my interest. According to the latest Queen's Speech, given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the UK is looking at updating the antiquated Treason Act (1351).

The UK recognizes that the Treason Act (and the Official Secrets Act (1911)) are rather antiquated and do not cover modern actions of individuals operating for hostile powers (e.g. cyber attacks). Despite several legal acts that cover terrorism and border security... there is still a recognized gap in prosecuting individuals who act with the intent to harm Britain. This is news indeed!

As I read the newspaper articles touching on the subject, I heard definite echos from the past - from 1940 in particular when Britain recognized that the Treason Act and Official Secrets Act did not cover the actions of operatives operating for hostile powers (e.g. spies for Germany). Britain's response at that time was to craft the Treachery Bill which passed into law in late May 1940 and was known as the Treachery Act. It was created in haste and was a rather draconian piece of legislation that had a rather broad net: anyone who did anything with "intent" to harm Britain and/or support Britain's enemies.

I've written about the Treachery Act and its implementation during the Second World War on this blog and in my book - The Spy in the Tower. As such, it was interesting to read a few snippets of what might be included in the proposed Espionage Bill...
A paper drawn up by the Policy Exchange think-tank last year suggested defining treason as “aiding a hostile state of organisation” with a new act of parliament.

The report set out a series of actions that could be deemed treason, including helping prepare or commit an attack on the UK, aiding the military or intelligence operations of a state or organisation intending to attack the UK or “prejudicing the security and defence of the UK”. (The Independent)
It is interesting to see the word "intending" as that was a key word in the Treachery Act as well - a word that casts a very wide net. Even in May 1940, several MPs noted that it was notoriously difficult to determine "intent" with any certainty. I will be following this story with keen interest to see what sort of language is eventually used.

Those interested in Britain's use of the Treachery Act (1940) can take a look at The Spy in the Tower. I also did a series of blogs a few years ago, but the book contains a more thorough look at the topic:
2014 07 14 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 1
2014 07 18 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 2
2014 07 23 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 3
2014 08 06 - Josef Jakobs: A Victim of the Treachery Act, 1940 - Part 4

Sources
BBC - 2018 07 25 - Does the Treason Act need updating?
The Independent - 2019 05 20 - UK Treason Laws will be updated
Daily Mail - 2019 12 19 - UK Treason Laws to be updated

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