Skip to main content

Legislative Scrutiny: Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill report published

10 November 2020

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has published its Report, “Legislative Scrutiny: Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill”, which concludes that the Bill as it stands leaves open the possibility of serious crimes being carried out under an authorisation, grants the power to authorise crimes more widely than is necessary and risks violating the human rights of victims.

The JCHR launched a call for evidence into the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill after it was introduced into the House of Commons on 24 September 2020. The Bill provides a statutory basis for a variety of public authorities to authorise informants, agents and undercover officers to engage in criminal conduct.

The Committee have concluded that although it may on occasions be necessary for covert human intelligence sources to commit offences, the Bill as it stands does not have the adequate safeguards and oversight in place to prevent the authorisation of criminal conduct being abused.

The Chair of the Committee, Ms Harriet Harman QC MP said:

“This Bill raises major human rights concerns. It permits officials to secretly authorise crimes on the streets of the UK and abroad. There should be added to the Bill clear limits on the scale and type of criminality which can be authorised. We cannot pass a law that leave open the possibility of state-sanctioned rape, murder or torture.

The power to authorise crime should be restricted to the public authorities whose role it is to combat serious crime and protect national security and not include bodies such as the Food Standards Agency or the Gambling Commission.

This Bill allows the State to authorise criminal conduct and grant immunity from prosecution, but lacks, clear safeguards, oversight and limits. The Government should amend this Bill to ensure that it provides effective protection for human rights.”

The Committee have identified a number of places where the Bill needs amendment, including:

  1. There is no express limit within the Bill on the type of criminal conduct that can be authorised. This raises the abhorrent possibility of serious crimes such as rape, murder or torture being carried out under an authorisation.
  2. The Bill is also unclear in respect of who can be authorised to engage in criminal conduct. There is no exclusion for children. If they must be involved in criminal conduct at all it must only be in the most exceptional circumstances.
  3. The Bill extends power to make authorisations to a range of public authorities, including the Food Standards Agency, the Gambling Commission and the Environment Agency. Together with allowing authorisations to be made "to prevent disorder" and to protect "economic well-being", this takes the authorisation of criminal conduct well beyond the fight against serious crime and the protection of national security.
  4. A power as exceptional as the authorisation of criminal conduct, granting criminal and civil immunity, requires rigorous and effective oversight. While the Bill does bring the use of criminal conduct authorisations within the oversight functions of the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, it should go further. As is required for other investigatory powers, authorising a person to engage in criminal conduct should require prior judicial approval.
  5. By granting criminal and civil immunity to persons committing authorised criminal offences, the use of criminal conduct authorisations under the Bill would risk violating the rights of victims.

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright