In a speech to Liberty on 7 February, Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), called for undercover policing operations to be authorised in advance by a judge. Sir Hugh suggested the significant change to authorisation procedure as an aid to restoring public confidence.
Self-authorised undercover policing has come under fire in recent weeks as a number of long-term and costly surveillance operations on peaceful environmental movements were uncovered. In one case, the officer switched sides to give evidence in court on behalf of the protest group that he had infiltrated. A number of undercover officers known as Covert Human Intelligence Sources were found to have formed intimate relationships with campaigners to gather information.
The current system allows for undercover operations to be self- authorised by the police.
Sir Hugh Orde, President of ACPO, said: "The current system of retrospective inspection is, in my judgment, no longer sufficient to secure the confidence of right thinking people that such interference with citizens’ rights (with its foreseeable collateral intrusion on many) is appropriate. Therefore the solution must take the form of some independent pre-authority that is already a common feature in other areas of policing in this country...It is not for me to suggest the level or form, but I do believe that an additional element of judicial oversight in keeping with our traditions of accountability to the rule of law need not be over-bureaucratic and the benefit would far outweigh the additional administrative burden.”
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: "We can't applaud pro-democracy campaigners in Egypt whilst attacking peaceful dissent at home. Recent revelations of abusive infiltration into non-violent protest movements should shame every democrat in Britain. In past years, some senior officers accepted politicians’ promises of ever-more unchecked power. At last, one of the most important voices in British policing calls for greater legal restraint on intrusive surveillance. We agree with Sir Hugh that such an important Service should be accountable not to politics, but to the law.”
The speech was delivered to an audience including lawyers, protesters, and journalists and also emphasised the importance of police independence and accountability.