The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill – known as the Spy Cops bill – is being debated in the House of Lords today: organisations and individuals, for the reasons below, are asking the Lords to oppose this dangerous Bill.
As organisations campaigning for justice and protection for victims of rape, domestic violence, racism and other discrimination, and against the government’s refusal to address the climate emergency, we are alarmed at the Covert Human Intelligence Source (Criminal Conduct) Bill, known to the public as the Spy Cops Bill. The Bill would enable public agencies – from the intelligence services and the police, to the Gambling Commission and the Food Standards Agency – to authorise their agents and informers to commit heinous crimes, including murder, rape and other torture, with impunity.
We urge the House of Lords to stop this Bill which puts the UK population at the mercy of unaccountable shadowy forces, laying the basis for a police State. We are appalled that Labour, under the leadership of a former human rights lawyer and Director of Public Prosecutions who claims a record of defending victims, did not oppose the Bill during its third reading in the Commons on 15 October, abstaining instead.
The Bill does not place any specific limit on the types of crimes that may be authorised without judicial approval. Its justification goes beyond national security to whatever may be considered the economic interests of the UK.
In the name of ‘preventing disorder’ or ‘protecting the economy’, the Bill would:
· encourage violence and corruption by agents and informers whose crimes would be legalised;
· prejudice victims claiming civil injury since there is no provision to compensate victims and those committing the crimes would be immune from prosecution or damages;
· endanger members of the public and/or of any organisation who may be targeted because some part of the establishment and their corporate interests disapprove of their activities.
The Bill must be seen in the context of:
- the Undercover Police Inquiry delayed by police refusal to ‘confirm or deny’ whether the agents who had sexual relationships and even children with women environmental and social justice activists, were officially sanctioned, and their refusal to disclose documents that could reveal the truth;
- attempts to discredit and criminalise families, such as the Stephen Lawrence and the Hillsborough families, campaigning for justice for their loved ones;
- de facto impunity for officers involved in deaths in custody. More than 1,746 people have died at the hands of police and immigration officers since 1990 – not a single officer has ever been convicted;
- ‘hundreds of police officers’ accused of ‘sexually abusing victims and suspects’ – ‘the most serious corruption issue facing the service’ according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary & Fire & Rescue Services.
- de facto decriminalization of rape – prosecutions are down to the all-time low of 1.4% of reported rapes; convictions for domestic violence are similarly low;
- the Domestic Abuse Bill which will be undermined as violent men who are agents or informers would be shielded; anyone could become an informer to avoid prosecution;
- unprecedented numbers of children taken from mothers who report domestic violence and are accused of lying by violent men using the family courts to avoid prosecution and maintain their reign of terror over women and children;
- increased poverty driving mothers and even children into ‘survival sex’ and criminalisation – ‘vulnerable’ women ‘including prostitutes and heroin addicts’ are then targeted for abuse by police;
- disabled protestors spied on by police and reported to the DWP, threatening their benefits, as admitted by Lancashire (re anti-fracking) and Greater Manchester Police forces;
- structural sexism, racism and class bias within the police and other State institutions;
- blacklisting and criminalisation of trade unionists who were spied on and are still campaigning for justice after the Shrewsbury (1972 construction) and the Orgreave (1984 miners) strikes;
- the use of children in undercover police operations;
- the criminalisation of peaceful direct action in pursuit of justice by XR, the Youth Strike for Climate, Black Lives Matter, the Palestinian-led BDS movement among others;
- government attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers and their lawyers, which have provoked murder and attempted murder, including against two law firms – a letter signed by over 80 prominent lawyers has asked the government to apologise;
- the known as War Crimes Immunity Bill which introduces a ‘presumption against prosecution’ for UK armed forces accused of war-related crimes overseas after five years;
- the continued imprisonment and trial of Julian Assange, under threat of extradition to the US for his Wikileaks activities which exposed rape, murder and other war crimes by US, UK and other armed forces;
- attempts to silence anyone who exposes collusion between State agents, supremacist organisations and corporations at a time of unprecedented trade deals triggered by Brexit;
- the government’s handing out of commercial contracts worth £12 billion to associates with no relevant experience and no public scrutiny under cover of the Covid emergency;
- the targeting of NHS and social care whistle-blowers, exposed by Compassion in Care.
Opposition to the Bill as it becomes known is growing, and includes trade unions, justice organisations, MPs and peers (see https://unitetheunion.org/campaigns/block-the-spycops-bill/.) Amnesty International warned the Bill ‘could end up providing informers and agents with a licence to kill’. Some Labour MPs have referred to the assassination of the Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane who was exposing collusion between British Security Services and loyalist paramilitaries. MP Dan Carden resigned from Labour’s Shadow Cabinet saying: ‘I share the deep concerns about this legislation from across the labour movement, human rights organisations, and so many who have suffered the abuse of State power, from blacklisted workers to the Hillsborough families and survivors.’
We call on all Parliamentarians to defend women, children and other victims of violence and their families; justice and environmentalist campaigners; human, employment and immigration rights advocates and their lawyers; and investigative journalists who are exposing crimes by agents of the State.
Those who are paid to enforce the law should not be above the law but the first to abide by it. This Bill must be stopped.