Clause 1 - Authorisation of criminal conduct

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Minister of State, Home Department 3:45 pm, 15th October 2020

I appreciate the seriousness of the point that the hon. Gentleman has made, and he will know more than anyone in this Chamber about the huge issues involved and, equally, about the statements that have been made by the Government in relation to that appalling murder. I am sure there will be other opportunities to debate that matter further, but I hear the point that he makes. Obviously, this has been considered at length before, but that does not in any way cut across the statements that the Government have made in condemning, underlining and apologising for what happened.

The use of the CHIS—the covert human intelligence source—does, as I say, underline the need for this oversight to be provided by an experienced and highly trained authorising officer, but it is about more than that. It is about the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, who already has wide-ranging powers to support him to carry out his oversight functions, and about the real role that he has. This is why we judge that deep and retrospective oversight is the most appropriate way to provide oversight of this power. This includes regular and thorough inspections of all public authorities that use the power, to ensure that they are complying with the law and following good practice. The frequency of these inspections is decided by the commissioner, and inspectors must have unfettered access to documents and information to support those functions.

Amendment 12 from the Opposition would require a judicial commissioner to be notified of an authorisation within seven days of its being granted. I have underlined the role of the commissioner, which means that we will not support the amendment today. We also believe that amendment 7 and new clause 6 would impact on the operability of the regime. However, I can say to all hon. and right hon. Members that I am giving careful consideration to how this retrospective oversight could be strengthened further, and to how this might be addressed in the Bill’s passage in the other place.

Amendments 18 and 19 relate to oversight by prosecutors. A correctly granted authorisation will render conduct lawful for all purposes, so no crime will have been committed. There is therefore no need to introduce a requirement for prosecuting authorities to play a role in the authorisation process. However, the IPC, supported by judicial commissioners and inspectors, ensures public authorities’ compliance with the law through inspections and investigations. That could lead to information being passed to prosecutors if they felt that that was necessary. I would also highlight that where a CHIS commits criminality outside the tight parameters granted by the authorisation, prosecutors can consider a prosecution in the normal way.