July 20, 2018Counter-Terrorism Marginalised and vulnerable groups
Responding to the revelations that the British Government uses children as Covert Human Intelligence Sources, Rosalind Comyn, Legal and Policy Officer at Rights Watch (UK), commented:
“Enlisting children as foot soldiers in the darkest corners of policing, and intentionally exposing them to terrorism, crime or sexual abuse rings – potentially without parental consent – runs directly counter to the Government’s human rights obligations, which demand the interests of children be placed at the heart of decisions which affect them. It is also an affront to the Government’s own safeguarding guidance, which requires our public authorities to help children escape crime, not become more deeply embedded in it.”
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Notes to Editors:
1. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Juveniles) (Amendment) Order 2018 to the House of Lords for Debate. This action triggered the first ever Parliamentary debate on this issue.
2. The effect of the order would be to extend the period under which children of any age could be used as informants from one month to four months. Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, Ben Wallace, stated in correspondence with the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, that there is “increasing scope” to use children as informants in areas such as “terrorism, gang violence, county lines drugs offences and child sexual exploitation”.
3. The order was debated on Wednesday 18th July 2018. Labour, Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat Peers raised concerns about using children as informants and the inadequacy of the safeguards that are in place. Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State at the Home Office, stated that the Government does not record the number of children being used as informants. The Lords were ultimately dissatisfied with the responses the Minister provided.
4. Under domestic law and international human rights law, the “best interests of the child” must take precedence in any decision that affects person under the age of 18. The current scheme does not mandate a best interest of the child analysis be undertaken. Were such an analysis undertaken, Rights Watch (UK) does not believe that the practice could be lawfully implemented.
5. Additionally, there are no safeguards in place to ensure a child’s consent is fully and age-appropriately informed, nor to ensure that they are free from undue influence, enabling them to make a voluntary decision. Children may be used as informants without their parents’ or guardians’ consent, and there is no prohibition on deploying children aged 16-18 to inform against their parents or guardians.
6. While a risk assessment must be undertaken, these assessments and the decision to authorise the use of a child as an informant appear to be conducted solely by the police or security services. There is no requirement that an independent social worker, psychiatrist or safeguarding practitioner be consulted in this process, nor that schools be informed.
7. On 20th July, Downing Street responded that the use of children as covert human intelligence sources was rare and said it was governed by a strict legal framework but did not elaborate further.
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