Tough restrictions that could prevent state agencies using child spies backed by the House of Lords

15 Jan 2021

As part of our ongoing campaign against the Government’s policy of allowing children to be used as spies by the police and other agencies, Just for Kids Law has been working hard on gaining significant cross-party support for amendments to the highly controversial Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, which seek to provide additional safeguards for children and vulnerable people being used as spies. The Bill was introduced by the Government to allow the police and other agencies to grant criminal conduct authorisations to their spies, providing them with immunity for the criminal acts done during their service as spies.

On January 13th, the House of Lords debated the Bill on the second day of its report stage and passed (by a majority of 339 to 235) Amendment 24 to the CHIS Bill - an amendment put forward by the children’s rights campaigner and peer Baroness Kidron - which severely restricts the circumstances in which child spies can be granted criminal conduct authorisations and prohibits this if there is a risk of any foreseeable harm to the child. “In every other interaction with the criminal justice system we try to remove children from criminal activity, to take them away from harm and towards safety,” Baroness Kidron told fellow peers. “But before us is legislation which formalises our ability to do the opposite.” This Government defeat in the House of Lords means that the amended Bill will have to return to the Commons for further discussion after a third reading in the Lords on 21st January.

Given the overwhelming opposition to the use of child spies unless absolutely necessary, and the safeguarding concerns this Bill brings up, we were pleased to hear that the Government is willing to continue discussing the issue and come to an agreement on a stronger amendment safeguarding children and vulnerable adults. We are delighted to have worked closely with Baroness Kidron, Labour MP Stella Creasy, and the human rights charity JUSTICE on drafting and gaining support for Amendment 24 and additionally thank Baroness Hamwee, Lord Russell, Lord Haskel, Lord Kennedy, and Lord Young for their support with the amendment.

Along with the Children’s Commissioner, Just for Kids Law cannot envisage a situation where it would ever be appropriate to use a child as a spy.  However, we look forward to continuing to work together when the Bill returns to the House of Commons to ensure that, at the very least, effective safeguards exist to prevent children being kept in positions of danger.