Power to issue warrants to law enforcement officers

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 21 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office) 12:00, 21 Ebrill 2016

The clause contains a power for law enforcement officers to authorise equipment interference warrants. That would be a significant power for the law enforcement chief and those officers to exercise. I have two observations to start with. First, the law enforcement chief authorises the warrant on an application from a person

“who is an appropriate law enforcement officer in relation to the chief”.

That is all set out in schedule 6, to which we will come shortly.

There is a big distinction between clause 96(1) and (2). Subsection (1) states:

“A law enforcement chief described in Part 1 or 2 of the table in Schedule 6 may…issue a targeted equipment interference warrant” in the circumstances set out in the subsection relating to a serious crime. Subsection (2) applies to a law enforcement chief described in part 1 of the table in schedule 6, and provides for a targeted equipment interference warrant to be authorised if it is

“necessary for the purpose of preventing death or any injury or damage to a person’s physical or mental health”.

We have rehearsed some of this before, in the sense of whether there should be a threshold higher than simply “any” injury or damage, because that is on the face of it a very low threshold, given, on this occasion, to law enforcement officers. That is a real cause for concern.

There is a second issue. One of the safeguards in clause 96 is that if warrants are issued under this clause by law enforcement officers, the decision to issue must go to a judicial commissioner, so there is a different form of the double lock, but in this case the argument that it should go straight to a judicial commissioner is so much more powerful.

On the first day—a Tuesday, I think—of our line-by-line consideration of the Bill, the Minister made the point that for the kind of warrants that we have hitherto been discussing, where there is a double lock, the special role of the Secretary of State as an elected Member of this House made it appropriate and right that she should consider the warrant; it should not go straight to a judicial commissioner. That is a very difficult argument to make when the double lock is being applied to a process that involves first a law enforcement officer and/or law enforcement chief and then the judicial commissioner. I do not think it is possible to mount an argument that the law enforcement chief has any of the characteristics attributed to the Secretary of State in support of the argument that the double lock should ensure that she takes the decision first, so there is a powerful argument for saying that in these cases the warrants ought to go straight to a judicial commissioner.