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by Bethany Rielly
THE spycops Bill is “one of the most dangerous” pieces of legislation ever proposed, Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti warned today as she launched a last-minute bid to weaken it.
The Covert Human Intelligence Bill seeks to give protection from prosecution to undercover agents and informants working for the police or intelligence service who commit authorised crimes.
Baroness Chakrabarti warned that such “blanket immunity” would open the door to “countless abuses of power and scandals in relations to criminality and abuses of human rights, potentially for many years into the future.”
She sought to remove the immunity element from the Bill by tabling two amendments at the legislation’s report stage in the House of Lords.
The former shadow attorney general told peers that her proposed changes, which include replacing immunity with a public-interest defence, would create “a better, safer balance” between “empowering agents to protect their cover” and protecting citizens from “potentially grave crimes and abuses of power.”
In its current form, the proposed legislation does not exclude serious crimes, including murder, if authorised.
The Labour leadership ordered the party’s peers today to abstain on Baroness Chakrabarti’s amendments.
During the debate, she defended her opposition to the Bill after party colleagues had accused her in the press of trying to exacerbate divisions between the current Labour leadership and its immediate predecessor by tabling the amendments.
She urged the “shadowy sources who chose to impugn my own motives and good faith” to “grow up.”
Highlighting the Washington riots last week, Baroness Chakrabarti also warned that this “is no time for complacency … when it comes to democracy and the rules of law.
“I believe that this Bill, unamended, … is one of the most dangerous that I’ve ever seen presented to your lordships’ house,” she said.
The proposed legislation has provoked huge opposition from campaign groups and rights organisations.
Ahead of the vote, solicitor Mike Schwarz, an expert in the law on protest rights, described the current Bill as an attempt to “entrench state power and put at risk the public’s right to express concerns about vital issues.”
Extinction Rebellion’s Ali Rowe warned: “Accountability is what stands between democracy and fascism. Let’s not sign it away.”
The second sitting for the report stage of the Bill, where amendments are typically taken for a vote, is due Wednesday.
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