Doreen Lawrence has given her backing to the “Lawrence amendment” – a reform which would require prior judicial authorisation for undercover policing operations.
Doreen’s son Stephen was murdered by racists in London in 1993. It has emerged that her family were targeted by covert officers following his death. When police should have been trying to find Stephen’s killers, undercover operatives were instead hunting for intelligence to smear the Lawrences and undermine their fight for justice.
The civil liberties and human rights organisation Liberty has long called for Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) to be authorised by the courts before deployment. CHIS are people who, under direction from a public authority, establish or maintain relationships in order to obtain or disclose information. The power is available to numerous bodies, including police forces and local authorities.
Authorisation currently takes place under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000. Section 29 allows officers within particular organisations, such as police forces, to authorise the use of agents and informants without any external approval.
Liberty is calling for prior judicial approval of all police use of CHIS and has drafted the 'Lawrence amendment' which could be tabled as an amendment to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, the latest criminal justice legislation going through Parliament. The amendment would require police forces wishing to deploy undercover operatives to satisfy a High Court judge that it was necessary and proportionate.
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: “The police should never have been allowed to put imposters in the Lawrence home and these abuses won’t stop until they are subject to proper oversight.
“Liberty has drafted an amendment to the current criminal justice bill, requiring judicial sign-off before undercover cops can be used. Doreen is urging MPs on the bill committee to table and support this change for the better.”
Following revelations about abuses of power by undercover officers such as Mark Kennedy, the Government has announced proposals for the Office of Surveillance Commissioners (OSC) to be notified at the start of covert deployments and to approve any lasting over a year. Despite the Government’s claims, Liberty says this falls short of “enhanced judicial oversight” and it will continue a self-authorisation system where applications for deployment and renewals are never considered by a serving judge.