security

UK set to introduce bill allowing MI5 agents to break the law


A bill allowing confidential informants working for MI5 and the police to break the law will be introduced on Thursday amid a row about whether committing crimes such as murder and torture should be explicitly banned.

The government says that the covert human intelligence sources bill does not amount to a “licence to kill” because it will be compliant with the European convention on human rights, which safeguards the right to life and prohibits torture.

But a coalition of human rights groups led by Reprieve said they believed there should be clear limits to how far agents working undercover in a terrorist gang could be allowed to go by the security services or police forces.

Maya Foa, Reprieve’s director, said: “Our intelligence agencies do a vital job in keeping this country safe, but there must be common sense limits on their agents’ activities, and we hope MPs will ensure these limits are written into the legislation”.

MI5 has long had a policy allowing its officers and informants to participate in criminal activity if the offences involved were proportionate to the evidence gained, but a court only narrowly ruled it was legal at the end of the last year.

As a result, ministers want to put the policy on the statute books for the first time. James Brokenshire, the security minister, said it was a “critical capability” and that it was “important that those with a responsibility to protect the public can continue this work, knowing that they are on a sound legal footing”.

The bill, however, does not explicitly rule out any crimes from being committed, partly because the security agencies want discretion and to avoid informants being unmasked by terrorists testing to see if they are prepared to commit a crime on a banned list.

Naa’imur Zakariyah Rahman, was jailed for life in 2018 for plotting to kill former prime minister Theresa May. He was caught following an undercover operation in which he was provided with what he thought was a jacket and rucksack packed with explosives.

Critics of the government point to the 1989 murder of a Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane who was shot 14 times at his family home in front of his wife and children by loyalists in an attack found to have involved British state collusion, which eventually led to an apology from prime minister David Cameron in 2012.

MI5 said it had foiled 27 Islamist and rightwing terror attacks since 2017 in conjunction with the police. “Without the contribution of human agents, be in no doubt, many of these attacks would not have been prevented,” MI5’s director general, Ken McCallum, said.



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