British authorities use children as undercover informants, House of Lords report reveals

The Home Office has attempted to prolong the period of time a child can serve as an informant from one to four months

BRITISH POLICE and intelligence services have the power to use children as a ‘cover human intelligence source’ (CHIS), a House of Lords committee has revealed after reviewing the UK Government’s latest draft legislation, which seeks to extend the period under which youths can be used as undercover informants.

In a report published on 12 July, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee demanded more freedom to investigate the extent of the practice further, and warned against a legal move to ease the utilisation of under-18s in such operations.

Nevertheless, the Home Office has requested via petition that the period under which a child may be authorised to serve as a CHIS be extended from the current one month to four. CHIS operatives may be employed in operations involving criminal gangs, drug dealers and terrorist organisations.

“We are concerned that enabling a young person to participate in covert activity for an extended period of time may expose them to increased risks to their mental and physical welfare.” Report on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) (Amendment) Order 2018

“We are concerned that enabling a young person to participate in covert activity for an extended period of time may expose them to increased risks to their mental and physical welfare," the committee’s report states, arguing that the changes sought by the Home Office “may be founded on administrative convenience” rather than the welfare of the children involved.

The committee also noted that the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanied the UK Government’s proposed legislation “does not make clear how the welfare of the young person in this situation will be taken into account.”

However, in correspondence with the committee chairman Lord Trefgarne, Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime at the Home Office Ben Wallace responded: “It can be difficult to gather evidence on gangs without penetrating their membership through the use of juvenile CHIS. As well as provide intelligence dividend in relation to a specific gang, juvenile CHIS can give investigators a broader insight into, for example, how young people in gangs are communicating with each other.”

 

 

The revelation was condemned by the civil liberties campaign organisation Rights Watch (UK), who stated in a Twitter post: “Under domestic and international law, decisions which affect children must be taken in their best interests. Their welfare must be the primary consideration. It is difficult to imagine any circumstance where it would be in a child’s best interest to be used as an informant.

“There is a clear conflict between the use of children as informants and agencies’ safeguarding obligations. The Government’s own guidance requires steps to be taken to prevent children from being exposed to criminal activity, not embed them further in it.”

Picture courtesy of Wade Brooks