Amendment 22

Part of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 2:30 pm, 3rd December 2020

My Lords, I accept that it is difficult to separate these issues, but I will leave discussion of economic well-being and the activities of trade unions and trade unionists until the relevant groups.

As drafted, the Bill defines very broadly when a criminal conduct authorisation is necessary, and this group of amendments focuses on the new Section 29B(5)(b) inserted into the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 by Clause 1(5) of this Bill. It states:

“A criminal conduct authorisation is necessary … if it is necessary … for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder”.

Crime and disorder have very wide definitions, as noble Lords have set out in this debate.

As we have already debated, tasking a CHIS to participate in crime is a very serious step for any authority to take, with all the implications for the rule of law and the potential for abuse that we have already debated, and because of the potential danger it places the CHIS in, about which we will discuss more in a later group. In many situations it could have far more negative consequences for innocent people than the interception of communications, and we should not forget that we are amending legislation that was originally intended to cover, when drafted, only the interception of communications.

The legislation covering such interception limits the use of its powers to cases of serious crime. Even in my limited seven years in this House, I have lost count of the definitions of serious crime in different pieces of legislation. It could be argued that, if we wanted to limit the power to grant a CCA to cases of serious criminality, we could choose whatever definition of serious crime we liked.

The noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Hain, have decided in their Amendment 22 to define serious crime as indictable offences only, but I am glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, is attracted to our definition rather than the one in his own amendment.

As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has clearly articulated, we have gone with the definition already used in RIPA—for the sake of consistency, at least within the Act itself. The principle, however, is the same: that this power to grant a criminal conduct authorisation should be limited to serious crime.

The Government may say that, in addition to being necessary, the granting of a CCA must also be proportionate, and it would not be proportionate to deploy CHIS if the criminal activity was minor. The same argument applies, however, to the interception of communications in RIPA, where “necessity” is already limited to serious crime, as defined in our Amendment 31.

The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, talked about the code of practice. There is, however, a definition of serious crime in RIPA despite the existence of the code of practice for the interception of communications. The noble Lord also talked about the impressive array of offences that had been detected as a result of the deployment of CHIS, including those relating to firearms, drug-dealing and child sexual exploitation. All those examples would fall within our definition of serious crime.

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, even though geese and ganders are different in some important respects. RIPA limits the interception of communications to serious crime, so this Bill should limit the issuing of criminal conduct authorisations to serious crime using the same definition.

The second issue is more difficult and more controversial, starting with the fact that the prevention of disorder is not one of the necessary grounds for the interception of communications. The Government are already on the back foot here, in that large-scale disruptive disorder can have very serious consequences for society yet there is no power to intercept the communications of organisers of disorder in order to prevent it. None the less, there is an argument for both the interception of such communications and the deployment of CHIS into groups that are planning to cause widespread disruption that could seriously affect public order, cause damage to property and the economy, prevent people going about their day-to-day business, and create fear among innocent bystanders.

That is the nature and scale of the disorder that we should be concerned about—not legitimate peaceful protests. By the same argument that limits the interception of communications to serious crime in RIPA, this Bill should limit the granting of CCAs to serious disorder, of which there is, to my knowledge, no legal definition. Our Amendments 26 and 30 limit the granting of CCAs to serious disorder and define that in terms of the offence of riot in the Public Order Act 1986, namely:

“Where 12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety”.

Using such a definition would rule out both peaceful demonstrations and Friday night pub brawls, but it would include situations where it was anticipated that a violent faction was intent on hijacking a peaceful demonstration. Going back to what the noble Lord, Lord King, said, it would only be necessary for the police to have a reasonable belief that a peaceful demonstration might be hijacked by violent demonstrators for them to be given the necessary authority to deploy CHIS in potentially law-breaking circumstances.

However, I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, that such disorder—riot—is in itself a serious crime as defined in our Amendment 31. It is important, however, to set out clearly that the type of disorder should be limited to serious disorder on the face of the Bill. We believe that such amendments would also address the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.