High Court rules against challenge on use of children as 'Covert Human Intelligence Sources'

By agency reporter
July 10, 2019

On 8 July the High Court handed down its judgment in a case against the Home Office concerning the use of children as spies by the police and other investigative agencies.

The case was brought by the children’s charity Just for Kids Law, which argued that the government’s guidance on the use of children as spies (“Covert Human Intelligence Sources”) lacks appropriate safeguards to protect children from physical and emotional harm. The presiding judge, Hon. Mr Justice Supperstone, ruled that despite the “self-evident” dangers to children arising from their use of covert informants, the current guidance is not unlawful.

Enver Solomon, Chief Executive Officer at Just for Kids Law, said: “We are disappointed that the Court has ruled against us. We are considering our options for how to proceed with the case, and in the meantime are continuing with our crowdfunding campaign. The judgment acknowledges the “very significant risk of physical and psychological harm to children” and a variety of dangers that arise from their use as covert informants in the context of serious crime.

"We remain convinced that new protections are needed to keep these children safe. The reaction we have had shows that despite the ruling, there is widespread concern among the public about the government’s policy. The Home Secretary should act urgently to ensure that when the police find a child being exploited, their primary concern is to protect the child rather than allow that exploitation to continue.”

Government figures indicate that 17 children in 11 different local authorities have been recruited as spies since January 2015 (as of March 2019), one of them aged just 15. This was revealed in a letter from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to Harriet Harman MP, chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

On 16 October 2018, Baroness Hamwee told the House of Lords: "A young woman of 17, who was described to me as “on the edge of care”, whose parents were separated and who had been between boroughs, was exploited by a man who—this is very common—she thought of as her boyfriend. He was selling a group of girls, including her, for sex. The police were looking for information on him and she was left in her situation so that she could provide information. In other words, she was exploited by him and continued to be exploited by him, and was, arguably, exploited by the police. Eventually, she witnessed a murder. She was drawn into it, and not just as a witness, as she was asked to dispose of clothes and other items afterwards. How was her consent to this tested? No significant adult in her life knew of her involvement, and we must ask ourselves what qualifies a police officer to make the assessment that is needed here."

On 18 March 2019, Baroness Jones said in the House of Lords that she had been told by a whistleblower that some police forces have been setting targets for increased use of children as spies. 

* Just for Kids Law is a UK charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted and their voices heard and valued. https://justforkidslaw.org/


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.