Block the Spy Cops Bill

Block the SpyCops Bill

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill (CHIS), otherwise known as the SpyCops Bill, is currently being rushed through parliament. Its purpose is to provide the legal basis for the conduct of undercover agents such as police officers, but in reality, it will go much further.

There has been a well-documented history of state surveillance of lawful trade union activity and justice campaigns in recent years, including links with the criminal blacklisting of trade union members. These revelations have been admitted by the police, as has the appalling conduct of undercover police in pursuing surveillance of legitimate civil society organisations, including anti-racist, family justice and environmental groups. These are still subject to a public inquiry.

Our concerns about CHIS include:

  • It allows state agents to commit crimes to stay undercover.
  • There's no limit to what crimes they can commit, including murder, torture or sexual violence 
  • They can commit crimes to 'prevent disorder' or maintain 'economic well-being’.
  • It threatens trade union activity and justice campaigns.
  • There is no provision for innocent victims to get compensation.
  • It allows a wide range of agencies like the Food Standards Agency to spy on people and commit crimes.
  • It does not protect human rights. 
  • It lacks prior judicial authorisation to commit a crime.

Amendments to the bill are being debated by MPs this week (Thursday 15 October) and Unite is concerned that this is not only being done with undue haste and insufficient scrutiny, but that it risks compromising and undermining legal proceedings through which the victims of previous criminal conduct by undercover agents, are seeking justice.

Please use our tool below to email your MP today, to ask them to support the amendments submitted by the Labour front bench, that would establish vital safeguards and ensure that serious crimes such as murder, torture and rape would be explicitly ruled out, as would trade union infiltration and blacklisting. 

If these amendments are unsuccessful then the Bill cannot be supported. In this case, please ask your MP to lobby the government to withdraw the Bill, and to oppose it at 3rd reading if it is not withdrawn.

We the undersigned have grave concerns about the measures set out in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill as introduced to the Commons at Second Reading (5 October 2020).     

As many will be aware from the circumstances leading up to the setting up of the Mitting (formerly Pitchford) Inquiry into undercover policing there has been a documented history of state surveillance of lawful trade union activity and justice campaigns in recent years, including apparent links with the criminal blacklisting of trade union members.   We are also alarmed by the conduct of undercover police in pursuing surveillance of legitimate civil society organisations including anti-racist organisations, family justice campaigns and environmental groups.   

Whilst the government has assured us that the Bill will not apply retrospectively, we remain concerned that passing legislation with undue haste and insufficient scrutiny in Committee - pre-empting the findings of the Mitting Inquiry - risks compromising and undermining legal proceedings through which victims of previous criminal conduct by CHIS operatives are seeking justice.

Aside from the timing of the new licensing of criminal conduct by CHIS operatives, our specific concerns about the Bill as it stands include:

  • The vague definition of “economic wellbeing” being susceptible to interpretations which would implicate aspects of legitimate trade union activity

  • The failure to expressly rule out the authorisation of murder, torture or sexual violence by a CHIS

  • The lack of any provision to compensate innocent victims of criminal conduct undertaken by a CHIS

  • The unnecessarily broad range of agencies able to authorise unlawful conduct

  • The reliance on the Human Rights Act as limiting the scope of what might be legally authorised, despite the Government’s own previous reliance on a legal defence that the State cannot be held responsible under the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights for actions undertaken by individual agents, and

  • The lack of prior judicial authorisation or even concurrent judicial oversight.

In the light of these concerns we would ask the Government to withdraw the Bill to allow for due consideration of the evidence and findings of the Mitting Review, or at the very least to make substantial amendments to the Bill to meet the concerns outlined above.

If sufficient amendments to ensure proper safeguarding in the legislation are not secured, the Bill will remain unfit for purpose and cannot be allowed to proceed.

We urge all those who share our concerns to use the tool at this link to email their MP today, to ask them to support the amendments submitted by the Labour front bench, and to oppose the bill at 3rd reading if the amendments are unsuccessful and the government refuses to withdraw the bill.

 

Signatories

Len McCluskey – General Secretary - Unite the Union

Dave Ward – General Secretary

Manuel Cortes – General Secretary - TSSA

Mick Whelan – General Secretary - ASLEF

Mick Cash – General Secretary, Rail, Maritime and Transport Union

Kevin Courtney – Joint General Secretary, National Education Union

Jo Grady – General Secretary, University and College Union

Mark Serwotka – General Secretary, PCS

Michelle Stanistreet – General Secretary, National Union of Journalists

Reprieve – Dan Dolan

Police Spies Out Of Lives

Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance

Pat Finucane Centre

Privacy International

Committee for Administration of Justice (CAJ)

Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign

Justice 4 Grenfell

Public Interest Law Centre

Jeremy Corbyn MP

John McDonnell MP

Diane Abbott MP

Ian Lavery MP

Jon Trickett MP

Richard Burgon MP

Ian Byrne MP

Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP

Claudia Webbe MP

Clive Lewis MP

Bethan Winter MP

Rebecca Long-Bailey MP

Mick Whitley MP

Ian Mearns MP

Grahame Morris MP

Apsana Begum MP

Paula Barker MP

Zarah Sultana MP

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti

Baroness Christine Blower

Baroness Pauline Bryan

Lord John Hendy QC

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Please use this tool to email your MP today, to ask them to support the amendments submitted by the Labour front bench, and to oppose the bill if the amendments are unsuccessful.

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