In the years since 9/11 the approach to counter-terrorism (CT) in the United Kingdom (UK) has been re-calibrated to take account of the nature of the threat and the context in which that threat impacts upon the safety of the British public. The transition from a domestic, politically-inspired Irish terrorist campaign to a global, ideologically driven movement, which aspires to mass murder with no apparent political endgame, has become the catalyst for fundamental change. The pre-emption of terrorist attacks through taking early action in response to accurate intelligence is now seen as vital to securing public safety. At the same time, there is a need to conduct those operations in such a way as to undermine the violent extremist narrative of grievance and discrimination.
A key means of achieving this was through the rigor and transparency of the criminal justice system, but to do this required new ways of working and unprecedented co-operation between the police and intelligence agencies. This approach has been proven to be effective, but an essential pre-requisite is an operating environment that is sufficiently permissive for police investigations and judicial process to take place. If there is insurgency and violence to the point that evidence gathering and police work is impossible, military operations will be required to degrade terrorist networks to the point where they become susceptible to policing. Along that path, the police and military roles may at times overlap and be complementary. This commentary is largely drawn from the author’s experience of CT policing in the UK over the past 15 years, but it is suggested that the underpinning principles will be relevant in many jurisdictions.