Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill

Baroness O'Loan Excerpts
Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O’Loan (CB) [V]
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The processes through which CHIS are authorised to engage in crime are, at the moment, unsatisfactory. There is a mischief here that requires to be remedied. However, the Bill does not provide a remedy to the mischief; rather, it exacerbates it. It enables the granting of immunity for serious crime to a CHIS by a member of a range of authorities in undefined circumstances. It requires the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, in the exercise of his regulatory powers, to

“pay … attention to public authorities’… power to grant … authorisations.”

It does not provide proper authorisation or audit.

The three grounds on which criminal conduct authorisations will be permitted are defined as national security, preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder, and the economic well-being of the country. These are very wide-ranging circumstances. National security must include the protection of life, yet the need to prevent crime can leave CHIS in place with authorisations that might lead to deaths because a decision can be made that the need to prevent a greater number of deaths is greater than the need to protect one life. It has happened. Crime and terrorism can be very fast moving. That is why we need to ensure proper authorisation processes, just as we have for the granting of search warrants and other activities under RIPA. Yesterday, the JCHR said:

“This raises the abhorrent possibility of serious crimes such as rape, murder or torture being carried out under an authorisation … There appears to be no good reason why the Bill cannot state clearly that certain offences or categories of offences are incapable of authorisation.”

I have had experience of CHIS activity over some 24 years as a member of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; as Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland; more recently, as a member of the international steering group for Operation Kenova, which is looking at the agent known as Stakeknife; and in my current work for the Home Secretary. I have seen the good that CHIS can do and the havoc that they can wreak when not properly regulated. The death of Patrick Finucane’s solicitor is a very real example, as are the activities of the IRA agent Stakeknife. I have seen it in other countries too.

The activities of CHIS as a source of information and intelligence are essential in the fight against crime—I fully accept that. The Government are right: their activities require to be regulated. In order to search a property, there is a requirement to get a search warrant and provide information to support the application, swearing to the truth of that information. A person’s right to privacy requires that. Surely a person’s right to life requires more than the distant authorisation of criminal activity by agents of the state, as proposed by this Bill.

As we contemplate the fight against terrorism, which is so real today, we need to learn from our previous experiences, not just in handling CHIS but in the consequences of the actions of the state for respect for the rule of law. When solicitor Patrick Finucane was murdered by state agents in 1989, the people of Northern Ireland recognised what had happened; indeed, David Cameron apologised for the shocking levels of state collusion in his murder. People very quickly lose respect for the law; that is what happened in Northern Ireland. Such criminal activity by agents of the state, and the failure by the state to prevent and investigate crime impartially and effectively, is very damaging to the whole criminal justice system and to community acceptance of policing, which is vital in the fight against terrorism.

The Bill came to this House from the Commons unaltered, but there were serious challenges to it in the other place. As I listened to the Minister, I considered the extent to which criminals recognise the opportunity to exploit lacunae in the law. If the Bill were passed, it would create terrible lacunae. The Minister has said that there will be no authorisation of serious crimes such as murder, but particular crimes in respect of which there is immunity cannot be identified because that would enable criminals to identify the CHIS. If the offences which cannot be authorised are to be identified by reference to human rights law, then if a CHIS refused to participate in a serious criminal act, the criminals would be able to identify them anyway. If it became known that immunity could be secured by a CHIS for a serious crime, this process might well be utilised by the very criminal groups which the state seeks to infiltrate, effectively resulting once again in state-sanctioned crime. Criminals are always on the lookout for opportunities. They are usually very intelligent and use the same countersurveillance strategies and techniques as the state.

As other noble Lords have said, we need better protection for children. We know that criminals do not hesitate to kill, torture and seriously injure young people who get caught up in crime. The Bill provides no real protection for such children. The ex post facto examination of authorisations by the IPT does not prevent or control the inappropriate authorisation of serious crime; it is not enough. Humankind is frail and sometimes decisions are made in the absence of law. That is why the Bill is unsatisfactory.

Finally, the Bill appears to provide power to authorise CHIS to commit crime outside the UK.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness has gone well over the advisory limit of four minutes. Perhaps she will conclude her remarks there.

Baroness O'Loan Portrait Baroness O’Loan (CB) [V]
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The Minister stated that this is needed for the MoD and, no doubt, for the security service. It raises problems for our relations with other states. We need processes to ensure the constant flow of information. To do that, we must amend the Bill.

Lord Duncan of Springbank Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Duncan of Springbank) (Con)
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We have ironed out the gremlins with the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, so we will return live to her.