Court Rules British MI5 Agents Can Murder, Kidnap and Torture
By TruePublica: Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5 can authorize its agents to engage in criminal activities, such as murder, kidnap and torture, a court in London has ruled, just as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new government prepares to overhaul the country’s espionage laws.
Judges on the Investigatory Powers Tribunal declared in a majority decision (3 to 2) that MI5 has the power to permit informants to operate in criminal groups, even if the policy itself confers no legal immunity. The case focused on powers that only came to light last year by then-Prime Minister Theresa May.
“The case raises one of the most profound issues which can face a democratic society governed by the rule of law”, Judge Rabinder Singh said in the ruling.
The decision comes as Johnson seeks to update laws to bring them in line with the U.S. in a crackdown on spies, saboteurs and hackers working for foreign states such as Russia, North Korea and Iran. However, within these laws, Johnson will look to criminalise journalists and editors work with whistleblowers and leakers in a new Espionage Act.
In its 20 year history, the IPT has made almost two thousand decisions, but this is the first case in which it has ever published a dissenting opinion, with one judge warning that the Government’s claimed basis for the policy amounts to a “dangerous precedent”, and another noting the court had been asked to accept ‘fanciful’ and ‘extraordinary’ propositions.
The excuse for the ruling was expected. Preventing MI5 from running agents in criminal organizations “would strike at the core activities of the Security Service,” the judges said.
The tribunal cited MI5’s own guidelines to agents and handlers that said the authorization “will be the service’s explanation and justification of its decision,” if the agent’s activities were to be scrutinized by police or other prosecution authorities.
Four human rights campaigning groups including Reprieve had asked the court to grant an injunction “restraining further unlawful conduct.”
One of the dissenting judges’ opinions stated: “Can the Government’s claims possibly be correct? Where does it end? What other powers does MI5 have as a result of the section [of the 1989 Act in question]?”
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“The IPT’s knife-edge judgment, with unprecedented published dissenting opinions, shows just how dubious the government’s secret policy is,” Maya Foa, Reprieve’s director, said in a statement. She said the groups planned to seek permission to appeal.
“The use of covert agents is an essential tool for MI5 as it carries out its job of keeping the country safe,” a spokesman for the Home Office said in a statement.
Daniel Holder, Deputy Director of CAJ, another human rights NGO said: “The practice of paramilitary informant involvement in serious crime was a pattern of human rights violations that prolonged and exacerbated the Northern Ireland conflict. Archival documents show that the unlawful nature of informant conduct here was known at the time and it appears policy since has been even more formalised. This close ruling is far from the end of the matter.”
Police have recently recommended that more than 20 people, including senior officials, should be prosecuted for murder, kidnap, torture and perverting the course of justice following an investigation by Operation Kenova into the handling of agents inside the IRA during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
While most citizens would agree that the security services need legislative tools to help and assist in keeping the country safe – locking up journalists and whistleblowers for reporting government malfeasance such as corruption or law-breaking is very much against the very principles that underpin a democratic nation.
Not reported by the mainstream media is that the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has already announced an Espionage Bill, charging ahead with new laws intended to criminalise any British copycats of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden. More worryingly, Javid also called for new treason laws, which he said would be aimed at people who “betray” Britain, whether at home or abroad.
The bill, said Javid, “will bring together new and modernised powers, giving our security services the legal authority they need” to tackle foreign spies operating on UK soil.