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Monday, January 11, 2021

Labour split on another civil liberties issue

Labour's record in Government on civil liberties issues is not the best. This was the party who wanted to bring in ID cards and extend detention without trial to 90 days, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. It is no surprise therefore to find the official Labour Party line on allowing undercover agents to commit crimes while infiltrating criminal gangs to be one in support of the Conservative Government.

As the Guardian reports though, this has led to a split in the party, with the leadership refusing to back a Lords amendment from Shami Chakrabarti. The former shadow attorney general says undercover police and informants could be immune to prosecution if the “spy cops” bill goes through parliament unamended and has consequently submitted an amendment for debate, seeking to remove the immunity on the grounds that otherwise there would be “grave risk” of human rights abuses from agents acting undercover:

But while Lady Chakrabarti is confident of winning Lib Dem support in the upper house, she has failed to win round the Labour leadership. Party sources said on Sunday that Labour would whip its peers to abstain.

When told the leadership’s intention, the Labour peer said she intended to press her amendment to a vote, even though it was now unlikely to pass. “This is too important to be left to deals involving the usual channels,” Chakrabarti said.

Labour has already split twice over the proposed legislation as it passed through the Commons. Two frontbenchers resigned in October as part of a rebellion by 34 MPs on its third reading, unhappy that the party was not prepared to vote against. A fortnight earlier 20 Labour MPs had rebelled at a second reading.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, had called on the party to abstain over the bill, arguing that statutory regulation of undercover operatives would have been necessary if the party had been in power, after the government only narrowly won a court case over the issue.

Further concerns about the conduct of undercover officers resurfaced in November as a public inquiry opened into the work of the Met police’s Special Demonstration Squad (SDS), which targeted left-wing, environmental, anti-war and black justice campaigners for more than 40 years.

Chakrabarti says the bill does more that codify existing policies used by MI5 and the police and, in effect, would give undercover informants and officers immunity against prosecution for crimes committed, if their actions were authorised. The legislation describes such as acts as “lawful for all purposes”.

“Total legal immunity means even less incentive for some of the most volatile and manipulative people – including ‘turned criminals and terrorists’ – to behave ethically,” Chakrabarti said. “Blanket licence for crime without limit, is completely alien to eq
uality before the law.”

The peer said she believed that a group of women who successfully sued the Met in 2015 after they had been deceived into forming “abusive and manipulative” long-term relationships with undercover police officers, would probably find it impossible to bring a similar action again.

The basic illiberality of Labour as a party (and the Conservatives) is one of the best arguments why the Liberal Democrats still have an important role in British politics.
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