Help Protect Children Recruited by the State as Spies

by Just for Kids Law

Help Protect Children Recruited by the State as Spies

by Just for Kids Law
Just for Kids Law
Case Owner
We are challenging the government's policy of allowing children to be used as spies by police and other investigative agencies. We believe that this practice puts young people at serious risk.
on 25th October 2018
pledged of £15,000 stretch target from 125 pledges
Just for Kids Law
Case Owner
We are challenging the government's policy of allowing children to be used as spies by police and other investigative agencies. We believe that this practice puts young people at serious risk.

Latest: July 8, 2019

Bad news from court - but the campaign continues

Today the court handed down judgment in our case against the Home Office. Unfortunately, the judge dismissed the challenge. The judgment acknowledges the “very significant risk of physical and …

Read more

The government is allowing children – some under the age of 16 – to be used by the police and other investigative agencies as spies in covert investigations. We believe that government guidelines on the use of “child spies” fail to protect these vulnerable children from physical and emotional harm, and contravenes their basic human rights.

We are urgently raising money to challenge the Home Office and force them to put proper safeguards in place to protect these vulnerable children. We need your support: please contribute and share this page now.

Who are We?

We are Just for Kids Law, a charity who support, advise and offer legal representation to children in difficulty. 

We believe the Home Office is failing to protect children who are being recruited by the police and other agencies to provide information on gangs and other criminal activity. 

These children do not have access to legal representation; they can be recruited without their parents’ knowledge and do not always have an appropriate adult to consult before putting themselves in harm's way. We are taking this legal challenge on their behalf. 

The House of Lords Committee on Secondary Legislation has noted the offences under investigation are "serious, violent crimes" and that they have "grave concerns about any child being exposed to such an environment".

The Case

We are launching a judicial review against the Home Office's safeguarding procedure for the recruitment of these children, who don't even have the same safeguards as children involved in criminal offending.  

We are concerned that without approved safeguards children may be exploited. 

We have already written to the Home Office to say that we do not believe that the guidance is lawful, and that it breaches the government's international obligations to children’s rights.  We have asked that they change their guidance to ensure children are fully protected.  Others have also raised concerns: the Joint Committee on Human Rights has also written to the Home Office, and many MPs have raised concerns. 

Despite all of the criticism the Home Office has refused to make any changes to its guidance.  We have therefore issued a legal challenge and will take the case to court.

When asked by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the government revealed that it doesn't even know the number of children involved in covert investigations.

What are we trying to achieve? 

We are trying to force the Home Office to change its guidance to ensure children are protected.  We want the guidance to make clear that the child’s welfare is considered when they are recruited; that proper risk assessments are carried out, and that children are only used in the most exceptional of circumstances with appropriate safeguards. 

How much we are raising and why?

We are asking for an initial amount of £6,000.  This will allow us to take the case to the first stage, the permission stage, where the court will decide whether our case is arguable. 

The money will be used to pay court fees, to protect us from the other side’s costs if the Home Office try to claim its fees against us, and we hope to be able to pay something to our lawyers, who have agreed to work at reduced rates given the importance of the case.

What is the next step in the case?

The next step is for us to file more details about our case at the court, and then the Home Office will respond.  After they have responded a judge will decide whether the case is arguable and if so, it will be listed for a full hearing.   At any stage the Home Office can concede, and agree to change the guidance. We urge them to do so. 

In the media:

The use of children as spies by investigative agencies has been widely covered in national and international media:

Just for Kids Law  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. Previous strategic litigation campaigns we have worked on include challenging the law on joint enterprise and litigating in favour of migrants lawfully resident in the UK who had been refused access to student finance.

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Update 7

Just for Kids Law

July 8, 2019

Bad news from court - but the campaign continues

Today the court handed down judgment in our case against the Home Office. Unfortunately, the judge dismissed the challenge. 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 - however the judge still considered their use to be lawful.

We remain convinced that new protections are needed to keep these children safe, and the reaction we have had shows that despite the ruling, there is widespread concern among the public about the government’s policy. We are looking at our options for how to take the case forward, and in the meantime we are keeping our crowfunding campaign open.

We'd like to thank all our supporters for contributing to the campaign and making it possible for us to bring the case this far.

Update 6

Just for Kids Law

June 12, 2019

Our day in court ⚖️

Yesterday our case was heard by the High Court in London. We put forward our arguments about the lack of safeguards for children used as spies by the police and other services, and why the current guidance on use of children as spies needs to be changed to protect children from harm.

This included witness testimony from experts such as former police officer Neil Woods. “In my experience, it is common for criminals to resort to extreme levels of brutality to deter informants, contributing to a cycle of ever-increasing violence among drug gangs." Mr Woods told journalists. "I have also seen first-hand how the need to maintain a lie for long periods can cause severe long-term damage to mental health, especially for vulnerable people who are most likely to be used as informants. Children recruited as informants are also highly likely to end up getting drawn back into criminality and feeling trapped in their situation. It is completely inappropriate for children to be put in danger in this way.” 

Our case has generated a huge amount of media attention. There have been articles in The Times, Independent, Metro, The Guardian, Telegraph, FT, Irish Independent, Sky News, CNN, Justice Gap and Rights Info as well as other outlets, while John Humphreys discussed our case on the Today Programme (listen from 13:01) and it was also featured on BBC Breakfast (at 29:54 and 1:12:31).

We are expecting a judgment in a few weeks' time. Many thanks to our counsel, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Sam Jacobs (both Doughty Street Chambers), and to all our amazing crowdfunders for making this case possible.

Update 5

Just for Kids Law

Feb. 25, 2019

We have a date!

Some great news: the court has granted us permission to proceed with our case – and the Home Office have agreed to a cost cap, ensuring we are able to go ahead to a full hearing! Thank you so much for your support, which has allowed us to come this far.

In granting us permission, the court rejected the argument from the Home Office that our application was too late, and agreed with us that this is a matter that needs to be resolved in court. The first hearing has been scheduled for 11th June.

The Home Office are still fighting the case, and we are waiting to find out what their arguments are, and why they consider our insistence that children should be better protected in these dangerous situations to be unreasonable.  We can then start refining our arguments in preparation for the court proceedings. We are very grateful to our barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Sam Jacobs at Doughty Street who are working at much reduced rates to make this happen.

We will let you know as soon as we have any further updates. Once again, thanks to all our backers for their amazing support which is making this vital case possible.

Update 4

Just for Kids Law

Dec. 11, 2018

The Home Office responds...

At the end of November, the Home Office responded to our amended grounds. In their response, government lawyers argued that our claim is not valid because we have missed the deadline to file a case: although we are challenging the Code of Practice on use of CHIS (Covert Human Intelligence Sources) that was published in August this year – thus falling well within the 3 month time limit for filing for a judicial review – they argue that because the Code of Practice says the same thing as previous editions going back to 2002, we are out of time and our claim should be refused permission.

We do not think the government has a convincing argument here, and in any case it is telling that the Home Office is choosing to focus on trying to stop our case through a technicality rather than engaging with our concerns on the welfare of the children affected. We sent a response last week arguing that our case should be given permission to continue despite the government’s procedural argument, while also pointing out that the government has largely ignored our substantive legal arguments in its response.

We put forward two strong arguments for why we are not too late to make this challenge. Firstly, we argue that our challenge is against the reissuing of the Code of Practice in August 2018, and that the fact that previous editions may also have been unlawful is irrelevant. Secondly, we argue that the Code of Practice represents an ongoing breach, with the decision not to replace it with better policies a continual decision on the part of the government that is eligible for judicial review.

We are now awaiting the court’s decision on whether to grant permission for our case to go forward and expect the court to announce its decision sometime in the new year. We will of course post an update as soon as we know the decision.

Thanks once again to everyone who has contributed to our campaign for making our work possible and helping us to stand up for vulnerable young people at risk of expoitation.

Update 3

Just for Kids Law

Nov. 8, 2018

Preparing for the next stage...

Having reached our initial crowdfunding target at the end of October, we have been busy preparing documents for the next stage of the case. Yesterday we submitted our amended grounds to the Home Office, which now has 3 weeks to respond. After that, we will be asking the court to grant us permission to proceed with the case.

We are also applying to the court for a cost-capping order, hoping that the court will limit our liability for the government's costs. Our reliance on the court to issue a favourable cost-capping order is due to the government’s refusal to proceed with the case on a cost-neutral basis, despite us being a charity taking on this case in the public interest.

In the meantime, our crowdfunding campaign is still running - until a cost-capping order is in place, there is no knowing how high costs could spiral, which is why we have set a "stretch" target of £15,000. If you have not already donated, please contribute today to help us make sure we are able to take this case forward and stand up for vulnerable children at risk of exploitation.

Thank you for your support, and check back soon for further updates on the case!

Update 2

Just for Kids Law

Oct. 17, 2018

Our case in the House of Lords - and a shocking story

Yesterday, a House of Lords debate, moved by Lord Paddick, focused on the issue of the use of children as spies by the police and other agencies. One of the peers who spoke, Baroness Hamwee, gave the following example of the use of a child as a spy, which was brought to her attention by someone she knows through the organisation Safer London:

"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."

This is a shocking example, and confirms our worst fears about how this practice is putting children at risk of significant physical and emotional harm.

But the House of Lords debate also shows how much impact our case has already had. Our judicial review challenge was mentioned several times, with peers suggesting that the government should respond before going ahead with amendments that would loosen the restrictions on using children as spies.

There is now just over a week to go until the end of our crowdfunding campaign, and it is vital that we meet our fundraising goal in order to take this case forward. If you haven't already contributed, please pledge your support today, and if you have, please share the case on social media to encourage your friends and family to join and stand up for these vulnerable young people in danger of exploitation.”

Update 1

Just for Kids Law

Oct. 8, 2018

Half way there - but we still need your support!

Last week we received a letter from the Home Office stating that they have refused our request for a cost neutrality agreement. This would have greatly reduced the risk for us in taking on the case, and it is hugely disappointing that the government has taken this action, essentially meaning we will have to cover their costs if we lose, even though we are a charity seeking to take this action in the public interest.

We’ve had a great response to the campaign so far, and are already more than halfway funded, while our case was also featured in the Guardian and LBC radio’s Eddie Mair show. But we still need to raise almost £3000, and the Home Office’s refusal to proceed with the case on a cost neutral basis makes it more important than ever that we reach our goal. If you haven’t already contributed to the crowdfunder, please make a donation today, and if you have, please encourage your friends and family to contribute and stand up together for the rights of vulnerable kids.

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