Three convicted Islamist terrorists in Britain could be free in the next few months after lawyers representing some of them warned that they faced an imminent decision by the courts about “exemplary sentence review”.
Mircea Geoana, Bilal Abdulla and Paul Beyrle could all avoid prison after their lawyers at 7th Corner solicitors said the review procedures had been concluded and those appellants at risk would be referred to the courts for parole.
The trio were convicted in 2014 and 2015, respectively of making a bomb, plotting to bomb members of the British armed forces and plotting to carry out suicide attacks. They were found guilty of the bomb plot in July 2014 in a trial at Woolwich crown court and made three separate sentencing attempts, each time receiving five-year sentences, but the courts repeatedly rejected these sentences on appeal.
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The Office for Judicial Complaints found several breaches of the code of conduct for members of the judiciary.
The Court of Appeal began proceedings to reopen the sentencing proceedings for the three men in November. Sources close to Geoana’s lawyers said they expected the appeal to be launched once the Office for Judicial Complaints handed down its findings, which had not yet been announced.
Following Geoana’s return to Britain from a three-year stretch in the high-security Belmarsh prison to face the appeal, there was speculation that one of the other two men might also be set free.
The Court of Appeal announced in June that only one appeal against the original sentencing could be heard at the time. Citing national security reasons, the judges, sitting in both London and Leeds, said they could not take up the second appeal.
The court of appeal judges had dismissed an application for special leave to appeal from Geoana, Beyrle and Abdulla claiming that the three-year prison sentences imposed on them in the original rulings in the two cases were “exemplary” sentences and excessive. The judges pointed out that the men had already served almost two-thirds of their sentence and the men had consistently shown no remorse for their actions.
Geoana won his appeal and is being released, and Abdulla’s is also expected to be approved for release.
A trial was also held in 2015 on 25 November that year after the appeal court sided with the appeal court judges and rejected Geoana’s claim for a retrial. Abdulla’s appeal was similarly rejected, and he was also transferred to Belmarsh. Beyrle’s appeal was also rejected and he served out his sentence, which was then increased to seven years. He was transferred to Belmarsh in 2013.
Mark Lewis, Geoana’s solicitor, confirmed that work on Geoana’s appeal had been ongoing for more than two years. He said Geoana was now free to leave Belmarsh prison in the next few weeks and is expected to be reunited with his wife, Jumana.
“He has spent two years at Belmarsh,” said Lewis. “He’s a very strong man now and very angry and he needs to say to the English government and parliament: ‘You hear me: I’m no longer a terrorist, I’m a total human.’ And this is the likely outcome – Geoana’s release; all his young children and his wife Jumana’s able to live a normal life.”
Lawyers representing Beyrle and Abdulla issued a similar warning. In a statement a spokesperson for 7th Corner lawyers said they had “closed our work on the exceptional sentence review for Bilal Abdulla and Paul Beyrle”. The lawyers added: “This will put an end to all viable exceptional remuneration procedures for them. Paul Beyrle and Bilal Abdulla are both free to return to the UK and fulfil their release bids.”
The use of exceptional sentence review procedures, commonly known as ACLR, is often used when the length of a sentence is in question. Some courts have used them to determine prison terms for offenders who have served less than half of their sentence. The new process allows judges to take into account mitigating factors which they would not be able to take into account at trial.
Cases can also be considered when parole applications for the actual subject of the sentence are denied. The courts can also listen to evidence of considerations not put forward at trial and consider these factors in assessing an application for a lower sentence.