Amendment 22

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 2:15 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, the amendments in this group pose the important question of when and why the Government should allow people to commit a crime and grant them full legal immunity for it. The Government need to justify granting such a broad legal immunity. They are calling it wrong. I understand why they are doing this: there is a court case at the moment that will influence the outcome of this particular manoeuvre, and there is the inquiry, which I hope will have some tough recommendations when it comes to an end. Personally, I would rather that the granting of immunity was restricted to serious crimes only, as set out in the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Paddick, because that would strike a more reasonable balance between the risks inherent in this criminal authorisation and the types of crime it is being used to fight. When you look at past mistakes, you have to ask, what was the crime the Lawrence family was suspected of committing or being about to commit? What was the point of that? Can that happen again? Yes, of course it can, and it can happen to innocent people. We need to be aware of that when we pass the Bill, as we no doubt will.

Then there is the issue of preventing disorder, which my Amendment 24 seeks to address. This is something I care about a lot, because I go on a lot of demonstrations, protests and campaigns. I am out there, on the streets, and you could argue that I am creating disorder. When I was arrested a few years ago—the only time I ever have been—you could argue that I was creating disorder. What I was actually doing was trying to get between the police and the protestors. I was saying things like, “Could we all calm down?” That is what I said when the senior police officer lost his temper and said, “Nick ’em all.” I feel that preventing disorder is an honourable thing to do, so we should think carefully about what disorder is. It is the Government’s duty to make sure that that is clear. “Preventing disorder” is far too broad a category for authorising criminal conduct.

If the disorder is so bad as to be criminal, it will already be captured in the prevention or detection of crime, but if it is not criminal, we are moving into the territory of peaceful protest and other legitimate gatherings. What is the justification for the state authorising people to commit criminal offences and giving full legal immunity in these cases?

Based on 2019 figures, at the moment in the UK there are more than 500 people who can authorise this sort of immunity for criminal conduct: 312 chief superintendents and 212 chief officers of other ranks. With 500 or so people who can authorise a crime and give immunity, you have to ask yourself: how many mistakes will those people make? And they will; they are going to make mistakes. I see some considerable scope for error in that. I really do not think that the words “preventing disorder” should be in the Bill. If the disorder is a crime then people can be arrested for it; if it is not, why on earth would we let someone else commit a crime to stop something that is not a crime? Perhaps the Minister can explain that to me.