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First charges under the new National Security Act 2023

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In a landmark case, two men from Leicestershire and South London have become the first people to be charged in England and Wales for the criminal offences of assisting a foreign intelligence service and agreeing to accept a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service.

This marks a significant moment in the introduction of the National Security Act (NSA) 2023, which aims to introduce new measures to address the evolving threat to national security by criminalising espionage, sabotage and assisting foreign powers. This seeks to counter attempts by other states to conduct hostile activity against the UK, including interference in our political system.

The threats are varied and ever changing, ranging from foreign interference to assassinations and poisonings. The act, therefore, provides our law enforcement agencies with the means to detect, deter and disrupt such threats.

Several new criminal offences came into force in December 2023 under the NSA, following the passage of the Act in July 2023. These new offences include three espionage offences:

  1. Obtaining or disclosing protected information
  2. Obtaining or disclosing trade secrets
  3. Assisting a foreign intelligence service

These offences were provisionally governed by the Official Secrets Acts of 1911, 1920 and 1939. However, the new act modernises the response to such threats. The new act also covers other areas including sabotage, foreign interference, preparatory conduct, threats to state, a foreign influence registration scheme and further terrorism measures.

So far, the first offences committed under this Act concern assisting a foreign intelligence service, agreeing to accept a material benefit from a foreign intelligence service and preparatory conduct. The former offence falls under the espionage element of the NSA and the latter two constitute their own offences under the Act:

Section 3 – Assisting a foreign intelligence service

  1. A person commits an offence if the person—
    1. engages in conduct of any kind, and
    2. intends that conduct to materially assist a foreign intelligence service in carrying out UK-related activities.

Section 17 – Obtaining etc material benefits from a foreign intelligence service

  1. A person commits an offence if—
    1. the person agrees to accept—
      1. a material benefit which is not an excluded benefit, or
      2. the provision of such a benefit to another person,
    2. the benefit is to be provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service, and
    3. the person knows, or having regard to other matters known to them ought reasonably to know, that the benefit is to be provided by or on behalf of a foreign intelligence service.

Section 18 – Preparatory conduct:

  1. A person commits an offence if, with the intention of—
    1. committing acts to which this section applies, or
    2. acts to which this section applies being committed by another person,

the person engages in any conduct in preparation for the commission of such acts.

  1. This section applies to—
    1. acts which constitute an offence under—
      1. section 1 (obtaining or disclosing protected information);
      2. section 2 (obtaining or disclosing trade secrets);
      3. section 4 (entering etc. a prohibited place for a purpose prejudicial to the UK);
      4. section 12 (sabotage);
  2. Acts are within this subsection if they—
    1. involve serious violence against a person in the United Kingdom,
    2. endanger the life of a person in the United Kingdom, or
    3. create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public, or a section of the public, in the United Kingdom.

Earl, a twenty-year-old man from Leicestershire, was charged on Friday 19th April 2024 with assisting a foreign intelligence service, alongside aggravated arson. It was alleged that Earl led a plot to burn down a building in London following instructions from the Kremlin to do so.

The attack was focused on a Ukraine-linked business and Earle recruited several others to assist with the attack. Earl was instructed by the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary organisation which is a proscribed terrorist group under UK law. This group is strongly connected with Putin’s regime and was instrumental in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The attack had a substantial impact, requiring 60 firefighters and four hours to control the fire. Earl is due to stand trial at the Old Bailey next summer.

Earl’s co-defendants in the aggravated arson included twenty-one-year-old Nii Kojo Mensah, Paul Adrian aged sixty, Jake Reeves aged twenty two and Dmitrijus Paulauska aged twenty two. However, Earl is the only person currently charged with assisting a foreign power, as the evidence suggests that he allegedly “agreed to undertake fraudulent activity, research and reconnaissance of targets, and attempted to recruit individuals to assist with conduct to materially assist a foreign intelligence service carrying out UK-related activities”. Reeves however is further charged with accepting a material benefit, namely money, from a foreign intelligence service to carry out the attack.

The Head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, Commander Dominic Murphy, raises the significance of the first charge under the new law and the government purports that the new legislation will enable better combating of hostile actions from other states, and will further counter-terrorism measures. We will anticipate the trial of the first charge of its kind.

Having been established for over forty-five years, our terrorism expertise is extensive. For further information regarding our expertise please see our dedicated terrorism defence services.

Are you being accused of an offence under the National Security Act 2023?

Facing an accusation of an offence under the NSA 2023 can be a daunting prospect, particularly as it could lead to imprisonment. To ensure that you have the strongest possible defence against allegations of offences under the NSA 2023, it is essential that you instruct solicitors who have specialist expertise in handling offences of this nature.

At JD Spicer Zeb, our criminal defence solicitors provide robust representation and close personal support to ensure that you are able to achieve the best possible outcome for your case, which may include having charges dropped, or securing a lower sentence if conviction is unavoidable.

We are highly skilled at collecting and presenting the various types of evidence that are relied on in criminal defence cases, including forensic and digital evidence and witness testimony. This means we can also clearly identify any flaws in the case against you and make sure that evidence which supports your case is clearly presented.

We have over 45 years of experience in dealing with criminal law matters and have also been accredited by the Law Society for Criminal Litigation. Our experience has meant that we can demonstrate a strong track record of previous success and has helped us to build strong relationships with many of the country’s leading criminal defence barristers.

If you are facing a charge under the NSA 2003, we are here to provide you with the support you need.

Related matters:

We also provide support and guidance on various matters that are related to offences under the NSA 2023, including:

Fees and funding

When you come to us for support, we will always make sure to be clear and upfront about the fees that will be related to your case.

If you need to attend court in relation to a charge under the NSA 2023, Legal Aid may become available. Whether or not this is the case will depend on whether the grant of public funding is justified.

Where you do not qualify for Legal Aid, the alternative will be to fund the case on a private basis.

To find out more about the way we handle fees (both Legal Aid and private fees) for charges under the NSA 2023, please use the links provided below:

Contact our criminal defence lawyers today

If you are due to attend the police station, require any urgent specialist advice, or immediate representation for offences under the NSA 2023, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

  • Brent & Camden London Office: 0207 624 7771
  • Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
  • Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333
  • City of London: 0207 624 7771 (our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment in the City)

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you quickly.

24/7 legal representation for offences under the NSA 2023

Please get in touch for a free consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice for offences under the NSA 2023.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number at 07836 577 556

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If you believe your case is likely to have serious consequences for you now, or in the future and you have the means to pay for this service

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Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

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We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

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Yes, read about the recent cases we've helped our clients with here.

We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

Have you won any awards?

OUR PROFESSIONAL BODY THE LAW SOCIETY AWARDED US IN OCTOBER 2020 WITH THE EXCELLENCE IN CLIENT SERVICE AWARD AND STATED - 

"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".

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Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

  • Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
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  • An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
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  • If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
  • This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
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Consultations do not apply to the following cases –

  • If we do not intend to take the case on.
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