A ruling by British judges declaring it legal for Britain’s state security service – MI5 – to shield agents or informers from prosecution for crimes committed in the line of duty is a hugely sinister development.
The ruling by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) last week represents a formalizing of secret British government policy of affording its internal security service unlimited powers and immunity from prosecution in the execution of activities. The policy was legally contested by four British human rights groups, calling on the IPT to ban such powers.
However, the tribunal of five judges concluded it was lawful for MI5 agents to be permitted to commit crimes if, by doing so, they were acting in the public interest of national security. Two of the judges dissented. They explicitly raised concerns that the policy sets a “dangerous precedent” and “opens the door to abuse of power”.
Daniel Holder, deputy director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), one of the four groups protesting the existing policy, said the narrow-majority ruling shows there is deep misgivings even within the state about the sinister potential of such unlimited power for Britain’s security forces. CAJ and the other groups are to appeal the ruling in the courts.