I appreciate you have concerns about the proposed legislation in this area. This is a very sensitive and important area of the law. As you will be aware, the Bill provides an express legal power for the intelligence agencies, police and a small number of other public authorities to continue to utilise an important tactic for national security and the prevention of serious crime.
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) are agents, or undercover officers who may work in the company of criminals or terrorists. CHIS help to secure prosecutions and disruptions by infiltrating these groups. Participation in criminal conduct can be a part of CHIS use. However, this conduct takes place in carefully managed circumstances.
This is vital legislation and goes to heart of efforts to keep communities safe from those who seek to do us all harm. The work of CHIS has been critical in disrupting many of the terrorist plots our agencies have stopped. Indeed, in 2018 alone, CHIS led operations allowed the National Crime Agency to disrupt over 30 threats to life, effect numerous arrests of serious organised criminals, seize over 3 tonnes of Class A drugs, safeguard over 200 people, and take almost 60 firearms and 4,000 rounds of ammunition off the street.
I understand you have concerns about safeguards. I would like to be clear that all authorisations are precise and explicit. A CHIS will never be given unlimited authority to commit any or all crimes. Indeed, where a CHIS commits any criminality outside the tight parameters of the authorisation, the prosecuting authorities can consider this in the normal way.
You outline that you believe the Bill will provide sweeping powers. I strongly disagree with this statement. The Government has been clear that there are upper limits to the activity that can be authorised under the Bill. These are contained in the Human Rights Act, including the right to life and the prohibition of torture or subjecting someone to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It is unlawful for any public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the legislation makes clear that nothing in the Bill detracts from a public authority’s obligations under the Human Rights Act. Therefore, an act that would be incompatible with the ECHR could not lawfully be granted under this Bill.