Charity loses High Court challenge over use of children as informants

A charity has lost a High Court challenge against the Home Office over the use of children as informants by police and other investigative bodies.

Just For Kids Law argued at a hearing in June that the current scheme for recruiting and deploying children as covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) does not contain “adequate safeguards” and breaches human rights laws.

But, in a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Supperstone said he was satisfied the scheme is “lawful”.

The judge said children are “inherently more vulnerable than adults” and that the “very significant risk of physical and psychological harm” to them from being a CHIS in the context of serious crime is “self-evident”.

However, dismissing the charity’s case, he said: “In my judgment, there is no unacceptable risk of breach of the… rights of a juvenile CHIS inherent in the scheme.

“I reject the claimant’s contention that the scheme is inadequate in its safeguarding of the interests and welfare of juvenile CHIS.”

The judge also found that it is “not irrational” for the scheme to ensure an appropriate adult is provided for those aged 15 and under, but not for those aged 16 and 17.

Mr Justice Supperstone said his conclusions were “reinforced” by confidential material he had seen.

In a statement after the ruling, Just For Kids Law chief executive Enver Solomon said the decision was disappointing and the charity is now “considering its options” and continuing to crowdfund for the case.

Mr Solomon added: “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.”

During the June hearing, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, for the charity, said the Government considers there is “increasing scope” for using children as CHIS because they are increasingly involved in serious crimes, both as “perpetrators and victims”.

She said the use of children to investigate and prosecute serious offences, including terrorism, county lines drugs offences and child sexual exploitation, raises “serious concerns” about their safety and well-being.

In a letter to a House of Lords committee in July 2018, security and economic crime minister Ben Wallace confirmed the use of children as CHIS but said the numbers involved were unknown.

He wrote: “Given that young people are increasingly involved, both as perpetrators and victims, in serious crimes… there is increasing scope for juvenile CHIS to assist in both preventing and prosecuting such offences.”

Lord Justice Fulford, the Investigatory Powers Commissioner who is carrying out a review into the use of children as CHIS, said in March that 17 children have been used as informants by 11 public bodies since January 2015.

In a letter to Labour MP Harriet Harman, chairwoman of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, he said one of the children was 15, while the others were 16 to 17.

He wrote: “Overall, the low numbers show that this tactic is only utilised in extreme circumstances and when other potential sources of information have been exhausted.”

A rise in the involvement of under-18s in serious organised crime was highlighted in a recent High Court ruling in which a senior family judge concluded he was unable to order a 17-year-old should be put in secure accommodation despite the youngster facing “serious and possibly fatal harm”.

Just For Kids Law raised more than £5,000 through crowdfunding towards the cost of the case.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.

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