HUMAN RIGHTS: Amnesty International UK criticises UK ‘licence to kill’ Bill.

Human rights organisation, Amnesty International UK, has criticised a UK Bill, currently passing through the UK Parliament, calling it ‘dangerous’ and ‘deeply shocking’.

The Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill (the ‘CHIS Bill’) appears to give the police and a number of government agencies, such as MI5 and even the Food Standards Authority, the power to authorise serious crimes, such as torture and murder, when committed by covert agents. These powers would authorise undercover agents to commit crimes where it was necessary for protecting national security, preventing or detecting crime or disorder, or protecting the economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom.

Of course, the police and agencies such as MI5 – the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency – have used covert intelligence for many years. These operations have sometimes involved agents breaking the law. Agents were often used in terrorist organisations, such as the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and Loyalist paramilitary groups, during ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland in the late 20th century. However, the CHIS Bill is the first time legislation has been put forward to allow offences to be committed in the United Kingdom.

Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty International UK, has called the CHIS Bill ‘deeply dangerous’ and ‘worrying’. She said, “It is deeply shocking that such appalling acts could now be declared lawful for all purposes across the UK and overseas.” Amnesty International UK has said that the CHIS Bill needs ‘significant amendments’ to prevent covert agents from being authorised to kill and torture ‘without any apparent limit’.


One of the main sources of law in the United Kingdom is Acts of Parliament (also called statutes). An Act of Parliament is written law which has been approved by both Houses of Parliament (the House of Commons and the House of Lords) and signed by the reigning monarch (called ‘Royal Assent’). Once the statute has Royal Assent, it becomes law on a specified date.

Acts of Parliament begin life as ‘Bills’, usually presented by the government. A Bill is the draft form of the statute which the government wishes to enact (make the Bill enforceable law). The Bill goes through a specific parliamentary process, including debates and voting) before it can receive Royal Assent.

Legislation usually refers to the body of laws which have been given Royal Assent (or have been ‘enacted’). This kind of legislation is called ‘primary legislation’. Another kind of legislation is ‘secondary legislation’ (called ‘Statutory Instruments’). This is legislation which is created by government ministers, under powers given by an Act of Parliament.

If something is covert, it is hidden and not displayed. Covert operations, for example by agencies such as MI5, are sometimes called ‘undercover operations’.

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2020

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