Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 3, January 30, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Consolidating Covert and Overt Police Powers

Covert Human Intelligence Bill Nears Becoming Law

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill 2019-2021 (the CHIS Bill, otherwise known as the "Spycops" Bill) was introduced in the House of Commons on September 24, 2020. It has just completed its Third Reading in the House of Lords on January 21.

Consideration of Lords amendments by the Commons was scheduled for January 27, when a number of the amendments were rejected. The amendments included:

An amendment limiting the Bill's application in Scotland had already been agreed by the government.

A House of Commons Library Research Briefing explains: "The main purpose of the Bill is to introduce a power in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) to authorise conduct by officials and agents of the security and intelligence services, law enforcement, and certain other public authorities (covert human intelligence sources, or 'CHIS'), which would otherwise constitute criminality. These authorisations would be known as criminal conduct authorisations (CCAs). The existing non-statutory policy for authorising such conduct is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge. The Bill would place the activity on a statutory footing and would limit civil and criminal liability for those subject to authorisations." In other words, the Bill is to authorise criminal activity, including " murder, rape, torture, and perverting the course of justice", by undercover police agents and other intelligence services. This clearly also covers provocateur activity. It is somewhat ironic that this Bill is going through Parliament while there is a legal inquiry in session (though at present in recess) precisely on the activities of undercover agents, the Mitting Inquiry.

This Bill is going hand in hand with the passage through Parliament of the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, at present at the Committee stage in the House of Lords, which gives immunity from prosecution to British soldiers for crimes including torture and genocide. That Bill would also protect the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State from legal claims to damages. Opposing this Bill, General Sir Nick Parker, former commander of British land forces, said that Britain "shouldn't be treating our people as if they have special protection from prosecution" and that it was vital for British soldiers to be seen be operating within the law.

Of course, neither of these Bills simply give the green light to criminal activities that had previously never happened. These criminal or undercover activities have not been an aberration. But it demonstrates the level of stripping away "civil rights" in favour of police powers, the legalising of what is by definition illegal.

On the Overseas Operations Bill, for example, the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that the Bill comes into contradiction with Britain's obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute and international customary law. "At a minimum," the Committee said, "the presumption against prosecution should be amended so that it does not apply to torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide."

The government has argued, especially with regard to the CHIS Bill, that the Human Rights Act exists which safeguards existing rights without the necessity to include them expressly in the Bill. This is, to put it mildly, ingenuous. The Bill will make the violators of these rights unaccountable in law. The Bill does not even consider the right of human beings to go about their business, speak out, resist injustice without being the target of undercover policing.

The power of allowing agents and informants working for MI5, as well as the police and other authorities, to break the law under a so-called "third direction" had been ruled illegal by the courts in 2018. The Home Office is now seeking to formalise this power in law by means of the CHIS Bill.

It is not that the Bill "goes too far". Powers are being enacted without limit. One MP in the debate on January 27 had this to say: "Only this morning, MI5 confirmed in court that it would authorise one of its informants to carry out murder as part of its activities. So much, frankly, for the safeguards of the Human Rights Act. If MI5 is willing to say that in court, where in this exercise is the protection of the Human Rights Act, which was the Government's defence last time and, indeed, the Minister's defence today?"

This underlines that in the mouths of the ruling elite, the "rule of law" is the rule of police powers, rule by exception, and the exception made permanent and declared the norm and the rule of law. The conventions of the constitution have been a veil to conceal the reality, which is that also these conventions no longer exist. This reality is that power is held by the rich, who use this power to claim that black is white and vice versa, almost literally. The force of law is given to the police powers and nothing else, which says that what is imposed must be regarded as lawful. Power cannot be shared between the people and the rich, meaning the oligarchs, all the private interests in whose interests parliament is acting. The clash constitutes the struggle of democracy, the clash between authority and modern conditions. Who decides what is in the national interest? Who decides what rights must be upheld and guaranteed as a matter of principle?

Workers' Weekly will be running a series of articles on the "rule of law", and the associated "sovereignty of parliament" and the "conventions of the constitution" in coming issues.


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