UK human rights panel to investigate police use of child spies

Parliament’s joint committee on human rights has been asked to investigate the use of child spies by the police and security services, after peers discovered powers covering the practice hidden in obscure secondary legislation.

The committee’s clerk confirmed that the chair of the Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee, Lord Trefgarne, had referred the issue to the committee and it would be considered “in due course”.

The committee is not due to meet again until September, but the Guardian understands it is likely to find time on its already full agenda to look at the issue.

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, and a number of human rights groups have criticised the practice of using children as spies.

Trefgarne and colleagues discovered that the government employed covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) under the age of 18 when the government tabled two orders to amend parts of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The orders, which came into force on 20 July, lengthen the period of time that police and government agencies can use child spies without reauthorisation from one month to four months. They also broaden the range of people who can act as an appropriate adult when handlers want to work with a child under the age of 16.

Juvenile CHIS could be used in operations as mundane as trading standards investigations into retailers selling cigarettes to underage customers. But in a response to the Lords, the Home Office said authorities also used child spies in investigations into terrorism, gang crime and child sexual exploitation.

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Brian Paddick, a former senior Metropolitan police officer, has tabled a motion of regret over the extension of powers to use of child spies, pointing to the government’s failure to consult with “organisations concerned with the human rights and welfare of children” over the decision to extend the period for which they can be used.

The motion, which is likely to be heard in October, will give the Lords a new opportunity to debate the tactic and to hold a non-binding vote on it.


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