SNP refusal on CHIS law risks public safety

The Scottish Conservatives have called out the SNP Government for potentially risking public safety after their refusal to back a law to give greater protections for serious police investigations.

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) Bill, which is a piece of UK Government legislation designed to protect our national security, will be voted on by the Scottish Parliament today.

It secures lawful cover for police officers using covert tactics when investigating the most serious forms of organised crime such as people trafficking and paedophile rings. 

However, the SNP Government has recommended the Parliament withhold consent, meaning it wouldn’t apply in Scotland.

This despite the SNP Justice Secretary previously praising the use of CHIS in detective work describing the method as gathering ‘life saving’ intelligence and as ‘vital.’

The Scottish Conservatives have called the SNP Government’s decision “reckless” saying this could endanger the public.

The UK Government devised the new Bill in response to an upcoming Court of Appeal case which could rule police need legislative underpinning to operate CHIS. 

Scottish Conservatives justice spokesman Liam Kerr MSP said: “The SNP Government’s desire to veto this legislation will leave criminals rubbing their hands. 

“By voting against this legislation the SNP is endangering the public despite previously praising CHIS for the results they produced. 

“It can only be described as reckless not to give our police the necessary protections when tackling crime gangs and may result in emergency last-minute legislation having to be introduced in Parliament.   

“The SNP government must back down on this, otherwise it will simply be another case of putting criminals before the safety of the public and our brave police officers.”

Notes

  • Humza Yousaf said CHIS were ‘vital’ to gathering ‘life-saving’ intelligence that cannot be gained any other way. The Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill seeks to provide a statutory underpinning to Criminal Conduct Authorisations which are already in use in Scotland and across the UK. Yousaf wrote in a Times Red Box piece of Covert Human Intelligence Sources: ‘They can be vital to the gathering of sometimes lifesaving intelligence that cannot be gained any other way, or to disrupting serious crime and security threats to the nation.’ (Times Red Box, 29 October 2020, link).
  • Humza Yousaf said CHIS were used in Scotland to tackle organised crime such as human trafficking and child sex abuse rings. In the same Times Red Box piece he said: ‘In Scotland, such activity could include police officers working undercover in organised crime groups involved in drugs and weapons running, human trafficking, child sexual abuse rings and terrorism plots, or being a member of an extremist organisation.’ (Times Red Box, 29 October 2020, link).
  • Humza Yousaf admitted that refusing legislative consent could mean emergency legislation is required. During a Justice Committee session he said: ‘The worst-case scenario could be a cliff edge, whereby unless there were express statutory underpinning for the authorisation of criminal activity by a CHIS, that activity would be unlawful. For that scenario, we are preparing internally for emergency legislation.’ (Justice Committee, 15 December 2020, link).
  • The SNP Government are refusing to recommend legislative consent for the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Bill. Humza Yousaf wrote to the Justice Committee: ‘I am therefore unable to recommend to the Scottish Parliament to consent to the Bill. I have made that clear to the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Security at the Home Office.’ (Letter from Humza Yousaf, 13 January 2021).
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