Human Rights – Tribune 15 October 2020

Jeremy Corbyn: ‘It’s Time to Stand Up for Human Rights and Oppose the Spy Cops Bill’

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill (CHIS) – described by campaigners as the ‘spy cops’ bill – is currently being rushed through parliament and is due to be put to the vote on this (Thursday) evening.

I voted against the bill on its last reading and will do so again unless it is substantially amended.

Concerns regarding this bill have been discussed widely in recent days but it is worth restating some of the key reasons why there is such broad, growing and impressive opposition across civil society including from Liberty, Amnesty and other human rights organisations; trade unions; peace and climate justice campaigners; anti-racist groups plus many others who simply want the right to campaign on important causes without Police infiltration.

These concerns include – but are not limited to – the CHIS allowing state agents to commit crimes to stay undercover; no limit being placed on the type of crimes they can commit, which could include murder, torture or sexual violence; allowing the committing of crimes to ‘prevent disorder’ or maintain ‘economic well-being;’ there being no provision for innocent victims to get compensation and a lack of prior judicial authorisation to commit a crime.

In other words, this bill could put undercover police officers and security agents above the law, granting a range of state agencies the power to licence agents and officers to commit grave crimes.

For this reason, former Labour Director of Public Prosecutions Lord Macdonald is among those to have asked why this bill does not follow the example of similar legislation in Canada in terms of excluding murder,* torture and sexual violence from being legalised.

Amnesty meanwhile have gone as far as to say “there is a grave danger that this bill could end up providing informers and agents with a licence to kill.”

I am also greatly concerned that as it stands this bill risks compromising and undermining legal proceedings through which victims of previous criminal conduct by undercover agents are seeking justice.

Furthermore, the bill risks pre-empting the findings of the Mitting (formerly Pitchford) Inquiry into undercover policing, which was set up in 2015 to get to the truth about undercover policing across England and Wales since 1968, and to provide recommendations for the future. It came after a range of revelations and reports concerning how over forty years undercover police had infiltrated nearly 1,000 political groups. These groups included trade unions, environmental campaigns, animal rights organisations and family justice campaigns including the Stephen Lawrence campaign.

The CHIS came to Parliament hot on the heels of discussion around the Overseas Operations Bill.

The latter is also being rushed through Parliament, and it is an insult to Parliament that not more time has been given over to scrutinise, amend and discuss such important pieces of legislation.

Myself and a number of Labour colleagues also voted against this bill, due to concerns that it both violates the rule of law and fails to protect the safety, wellbeing and rights of our military personnel.

As Shami Chakrabarti has made clear, it will “immunise the Ministry of Defence from claims by the very veterans it has neglected and claims to want to protect.”

Of particular concern is the fact that there would be a presumption against any criminal prosecutions of soldiers after five years from when an incident took place – including with regard to war crimes – even though these often take over five years to be revealed.

The bill also denies public transparency and accountability for military interventions, which is a serious matter considering the UK’s record in this area over recent decades.

Liberty have therefore argued that if the Overseas Operations bill becomes law it will result in the effective decriminalisation of torture and many other breaches of the Geneva Convention.

These two bills come within a context of a potentially massive rolling back of our human rights under the Tories.

In 2018, Tory MPs voted down including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit.

Then their 2019 manifesto argued for “updating” the Human Rights Act, which is cited in many judicial review cases brought by charities and NGOs against government policies, and also currently ensures that the European Convention on Human Rights is part of UK law.

There has also been widespread reports this year of a growing mood within the Conservative Party to also pull us out of the European Court of Human Rights as a follow-up to Brexit, and it is well known that Dominic Cummings and other prominent Tories have previously called for a referendum on this issue.

We also know from recent developments around Brexit that this Government is prepared to break international law if its fits with their political priorities.

All of this will also damage our reputation on a global scale – including that our condemnation of human rights abuse elsewhere will inevitably stand for very little – lining us up with extreme right-wing administrations that show little regard for human rights such as those of Trump in the US, Modi in India and Bolsonaro in Brazil.

It is a threat to us all when our rights are curtailed. Now is the time to stand up for our core Labour values of human rights and civil liberties and against this Government’s divisive, dangerous reactionary political agenda and attempts to follow Trump in to stoking up a ‘culture war.’ Published on October 15 2020 at https://tribunemag.co.uk/2020/10/jeremy-corbyn-its-time-to-stand-up-for-human-rights-and-oppose-the-spy-cops-bill