by Michael McHugh, PA
Terrorist offenders' release from prison under licence in Northern Ireland should be supervised by someone unconnected to police, the terrorism laws reviewer said.
The new law passing through Westminster increases the length of time spent subject to official monitoring.
Following credible threats from dissident republicans, in 2017 the Probation Service of Northern Ireland stopped directly supervising the licences of convicted terrorists, independent reviewer Jonathan Hall QC said.
He warned: "Inevitably the focus of licence supervision may be towards enforcement or disruption rather than rehabilitation.
"Offenders are likely to perceive the role of the police differently from the role of probation staff when it comes to discussing their offending motivation.
"The proposed increase to the length of licences in Northern Ireland takes place against this background, and if anything increases the need for a non-police element to parole supervision."
The supervision of former prisoners is principally undertaken by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
The Government's proposals are designed to strengthen the law which governs the sentencing, release and monitoring of terrorism offenders.
Mr Hall said: "The blurred edge between what is terrorism and paramilitary activity or organised crime is a particular feature of the security situation in Northern Ireland."
He added: "Terrorist offenders will include not only long-standing members of terrorist organisations but drug users whose addictions may lead them to being coerced into support roles for terrorist organisations."
Police, rather than probation officers, initiate the process of licence revocation and return to prison on grounds of further terrorist behaviour or offending.
Where matters are before the Parole Commissioners of Northern Ireland, the views of the police are articulated by the Department of Justice.
Mr Hall said: "This role will be increased by the fact that the emergency legislation passed in March 2020 abolishing the automatic release of most terrorist offenders is to be extended to Northern Ireland."
He said Stormont's Justice Department was seeking to enhance arrangements for monitoring in the community.
This includes developing a multi-agency system of assessment and monitoring, and commissioning a risk assessment tool.