High Court rules against Just for Kids Law in challenge to use of children as spies

The judge ruled despite the “self-evident” dangers to children, the current guidance is not unlawful.
9 Jul 2019

Today the High Court handed down its judgment on a case against the Home Office concerning the use of children as spies by the police and other investigative agencies. The case was brought by the children’s charity Just for Kids Law, who argued that the government’s guidance on the use of children as spies (“Covert Human Intelligence Sources”/”CHIS”) lacks appropriate safeguards to protect children from physical and emotional harm. The presiding judge, Hon. Mr Justice Supperstone, ruled that despite the “self-evident” dangers to children arising from their use of covert informants, the current guidance is not unlawful.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer at Just for Kids Law, said:

“We are disappointed that the Court has ruled against us. We are considering our options for how to proceed with the case, and in the meantime are continuing with our crowdfunding campaign. The judgment acknowledges the “very significant risk of physical and psychological harm to children” and a variety of dangers that arise from their use as covert informants in the context of serious crime. We remain convinced that new protections are needed to keep these children safe. The reaction we have had shows that despite the ruling, there is widespread concern among the public about the government’s policy. The Home Secretary should act urgently to ensure that when the police find a child being exploited, their primary concern is to protect the child rather than allow that exploitation to continue.”

 Notes to editors:

  1. Just for Kids Law (JfKL) is a UK charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted and their voices heard and valued.
  2. JfKL has a long history of using the law to enact social change through strategic litigation. The charity’s previous strategic litigation campaigns include successfully challenging the government’s criminal record disclosure regime, resetting the law on joint enterprise and litigating in favour of migrants lawfully resident in the UK who had been refused access to student finance. 
  3. Just for Kids Law previously took the case of R(HC) v SSHD [2013] EWHC 982 (Admin), which confirmed that 17 year olds are entitled to appropriate adults in the police station when they are arrested for any offence.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has ratified confirms that all those under 18 are children and entitled to special protection under the law. 
  4. Lawyers working on this case are: Jennifer Twite (Head of Strategic Litigation, Just for Kids Law), Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Sam Jacobs (both Doughty Street Chambers).
  5. The case of the 17-year-old girl who was recruited to spy on the man who was sexually exploiting her was revealed in a House of Lords debate by Baroness Hamwee. Full transcript: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2018-10-16b.435.1
  6. Government figures indicate that 17 children in 11 different local authorities have been recruited as spies since January 2015 (as of March 2019), one of them aged just 15. This was revealed in a letter from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to Harriet Harman MP, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights: https://www.parliament.uk/documents/joint-committees/human-rights/correspondence/2017-19/190308_IPCO_to_Chair_re_Child_Spies.pdf
  7. It has been revealed by whistle-blowers that some police forces have been setting targets for increased use of children as spies, as reported to the House of Lords by Baroness Jones. Full transcript https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2019-03-18c.1277.0
  8. Just for Kids Law has so far raised £5644 from 120 pledges (not including Gift Aid and offline donations) through a crowdfunding campaign on the CrowdJustice website: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/children-as-spies/