Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 1:45 pm, 15th October 2020

Well, they have changed a bit. One of the things that the Intelligence Services Act 1994 created was the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Committee tried to look into rendition and torture just recently, under its previous Chairman, and it was refused access to 15 cases, so I am now suing the Government on exactly this matter, to force them to have to have a proper judge-led tribunal. So even now, it is not good enough; after 20 years, it is still not good enough.

The trouble is that others do it better. America and Canada learned the hard way about the need to include specific limits on the crimes that agents can commit. In those countries, informers and their handlers were involved in carrying out numerous cases of racketeering and murder, and they were found out. Since then, both countries have set clear limits. Just as an aside on the overall public interest, we all want our agencies to be able to work, but the FBI investigation found that the lack of limits and the wooliness of the controls led to more crimes, not fewer, so the so-called Soprano effect worked in reverse in terms of protecting the public interest.

The Bill puts no express limits on the crimes that the agencies can authorise—not on murder, not on torture and not on rape—and it claims that the Human Rights Act provides a safeguard. However, their own submissions in court, which have already been referred to by Joanna Cherry and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, showed that their own lawyers do not believe that. If Members have a bit of quiet time travelling back to their constituencies, they should read the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s findings on the behaviour of the agencies. It is almost a James Bond novel in its own right. The scathing descriptions of the operations are worth reading.

Amendment 13, tabled in my name, addresses the most egregious elements of the Bill. It puts hard limits on the extent of criminal conduct that can be authorised by officers, and it specifically prohibits murder, torture, serious bodily harm, sexual assault and other heinous crimes. Crucially, it explicitly permits prosecutors to drop a case in a situation where an agent is truly forced to participate in a serious crime and where a decision not to prosecute is in the public interest. There is a real need for legislation in this area, but the Bill as it stands carries real risks of serious injustice. My amendments would give the intelligence services the protections they need, but stop short of giving them carte blanche authorisation to carry out the heinous crimes in the name of the state that have happened too often in the past.