Explosive Substances Act 1883
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The Explosive Substances Act 1883 (c. 3) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It makes it illegal to use -- or conspire or intend to use -- any explosive substance to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, whether or not any explosion actually takes place. A person guilty of an offence under this law is liable to imprisonment for life.
Under this Act it is also an offence, subject to imprisonment for two years, to possess explosives under suspicious circumstances, that is where you can't properly explain why you have them.
Anyone who helps someone to commit a crime under this law by providing money, materials, premises, or any other assistance, shall be tried and punished as severely as the person who actually uses the explosives.
Witnesses who are called during the official investigation or the trial can be arrested to prevent them from absconding, and do not have the right of silence to protect themselves from self-incrimination. On the other hand, self-incriminating evidence from a witness can't be used in a different criminal or civil proceeding.
Applications of this Act
It is obvious that any instance of terrorism involving any kind of bomb is necessarily a crime under Explosive Substances Act 1883 (as well as being a crime under the law against attempted murder). In fact, for many decades the Explosive Substances Act was the basis for the prosecution of terrorist cases, such as S-Plan in 1939, the Birmingham Six in 1975, Tony Lecomber in 1985, and the Talbot Street bomb-making haul in 2006.
Since the year 2000 there has been a series of special terrorism laws which appear to supersede the Explosive Substances Act, in that they can also be used to investigate and prosecute those who misuse explosives to endanger life and property for illegitimate purposes (usually to further their own political causes).
The terrorism acts have been applied in the cases such as 2004 Financial buildings plot and 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot where the intent to misuse explosives is alleged. However, since no actual explosive substances have been found, the Explosive Substances Act cannot be made to apply.
In the latest use of the Act Iraqi doctor Bilal Abdullah became the first person charged over the London and Glasgow car bomb attacks in 2007. Abdullah, who was arrested after a flaming Jeep was driven into the doors of the arrivals hall at Glasgow Airport. The 27-year-old, who was working as a doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland, before his arrest, was charged with conspiring to cause explosions under the 1883 Explosive Substances Act. The charge alleges he "unlawfully and maliciously conspired with others to cause explosions of a nature likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to property in the United Kingdom".
- Official text of the Explosive Substances Act 1883 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database