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Volume 50 Number 39, October 31, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Move to entrench police powers above the rule of law

Online Meeting on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill
- An Attack on the Rights of All

The Stop the War Coalition held an online meeting on October 22 to discuss the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, which was rushed through the House of Commons before going to the Lords. Speakers were: Zara Sultana MP, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, Kate Wilson of Police Spies Out of Lives, Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett, and Shabbir Lakha of the Stop the War Coalition.

The meeting was held in the wake of the third reading in the House of Commons of the CHIS Bill, known as the so-called "Spy Cops Bill". The online statement of Stop the War points out the Bill "allows authorisation by a wide range of state organisations for undercover agents to commit crimes as part of their work" ... "including rape and murder".

This meeting heard from an expert platform of speakers that connected the political issues with personal testimony. This was particularly true of Kate Wilson, who was deceived into a relationship with a police spy, and John Finucane MP, who has been fighting against the pernicious role of police spies since his father Pat was murdered with the collaboration of police intelligence in 1989.

The tone of the meeting was very positive with people speaking out and determined to take a stand against the measures the government is trying to impose. Indeed, the fact that the meeting happened at all demonstrated that what the government is doing is not without opposition.

Protest against British spy communications systems in Ireland

Addressing the meeting, which included over 300 online participants, Sinn Féin MP John Finucane said that the British government cannot be allowed to put its state agents above the law. The North Belfast MP said: "The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill is a direct attack on democracy, human rights and justice. The danger of this legislation is that it provides no political or judicial oversight to the most serious of crimes committed by state agents, including murder and torture. It would prevent future victims seeking redress through the courts and ensure that those who have exposed wrongdoing in the past would be incapable of doing so in the future."

Finucane spoke most eloquently about his own experience which, he said, "included the assassination of my father and human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane, by loyalist death squads acting under the direction of the British state". His concern, he said, is that "over decades, state agents and their proxies in loyalist death squads effectively had a license to kill and were involved in countless killings of people across the island". His message was that "state agents and informers cannot be placed above the rule of law. They cannot be allowed to act without fear of any accountability or prosecution."

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti made the point that "what happens at the moment is that any prosecutor, any police officer, who is looking to bring charges against somebody will look not just at the evidence of what they've done but will look at the public interest". However, "with this legislation .... This bill is not about putting Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) on a statutory footing, that was done in 2000; this isn't just about criminal conduct but it is about giving immunity in advance of your [the police] activity. That's why some people call it the Licence to Commit Crime Bill, because there is no limitation on the offences that you are allowed to commit. And this is a huge step in any democracy."

Trade unions express grave concern. Photo of Kate Wilson

This was poignantly illustrated in the testimony of Kate Wilson from Police Spies Out of Lives, who said this was the first time she had spoken at a meeting such as this. She talked about her experiences of having been entrapped in 2003 by a man she knew as Mark Stone. Thinking him to be a genuine person, she fell in love with this man and said that they were life partners for two years. Following this they separated. However, it was only in 2010 that she discovered that he had been an undercover police officer, whose real name was Mark Kennedy.

She said: "I am very concerned about the timing of this Bill. It feels like it is very clearly being rushed through to avoid scrutiny and to avoid the lessons that are going to come out of claims like mine. My claim was due to be resolved in April. The Undercover Policing Enquiring will start hearing evidence next month. And then of course, there is the claim against MI5 that is now going to appeal that seems to have prompted this whole Bill happening in the first place." She concluded that "the CHIS Bill is basically going to make everything that we fought for pointless because it will allow them to do the things that they did to us lawfully without anybody having the right to recourse; to even find out what was done to them. And it needs to be stopped."

Howard Beckett, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, drew attention to how the legislation looks to legitimise the actions of undercover police, and that no crime is said to be unlawful under the Bill, including rape and murder. There is no oversight of the state, no accountability under the Bill. Howard Beckett said, "The reality of this Bill is that the State is being authorised to undertake crimes against society, the most severe crimes against society, with subjective tests which allow them immunity with respect to prosecution." He added: "The FBI in America have more legal requirements for transparency than will be required of our Spy Cops under this legislation. That's how serious it is." Furthermore: "The reality of this legislation is that it comes after we've just had legislation passed for immunity in respect of those who commit crimes abroad, five years for those that commit crimes of the state abroad. It comes on top of the fact that we have the Trade Union Act and all of its prescriptive legislation. Legislation is becoming a mountain now."

Shami Chakrabarti speaking at the meeting

What the whole meeting revealed is that the British government can be seen to be rushing legislation through Parliament under the cover of the current Covid-19 crisis and the difficulty of both scrutiny and protest at this time. It is shifting or reorganising the state arrangements to one of police powers being above of civil society, and exposing the nature of British "democracy".

The conviction of the Stop the War online meeting was that this poses very real dangers to the lives and human rights of everyone in Britain today. And, as John Finucane said in relation to Ireland, "Instead of concealing the truth and providing further cover for state agents, the British government must fulfil its commitments made in the Stormont House Agreement and implement the legacy measures in a human rights compliant manner."

The meeting concluded with a united determination to take a stand against this Bill and in defence of the rights of all. It asserted that this Spy Cops Bill represents, as the title suggested, "An Attack On Us All" and that the move to entrench police powers above the rule of law must be opposed.

The full meeting is available to view: []


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