UK

Undercover police sex case to be heard in private

Mark Kennedy
Image caption Some of the claimants said they had relationships with undercover officer Mark Kennedy

Claims by activists against undercover police officers who had sexual relationships to gather evidence should be heard in private, a court has ruled.

The Court of Appeal says only an Investigatory Powers Tribunal - a closed court - can rule on claims the women's human rights were violated.

It is the latest in a legal action against the police that began with an officer being exposed in 2010.

Ten women say they were duped into forming long-term relationships.

'Seriously intrusive'

The most well-known former officer, Mark Kennedy, infiltrated environmental groups.

Ruling on the claims brought under the Human Rights Act against the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police, the appeal court judges said: "The establishing and/or maintaining of an intimate sexual relationship for the covert purpose of obtaining intelligence is a seriously intrusive form of investigatory technique.

"We do not think that it is in issue that it amounts to an invasion of an individual's common law right to personal security and of a most intimate aspect of the right to privacy under article 8 of the convention."

They ruled that only the IPT can adjudicate on the "necessity and proportionality" of techniques used by police spies.

The IPT deals with complaints relating to secret surveillance powers.

Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson said: "At first sight, it seems obvious that the IPT has jurisdiction to deal with the human rights claims."

He added that Parliament clearly intended for human rights proceedings about relationships by undercover police officers to be ruled on by the IPT.

"The proposition that sex is the thing that makes all the difference between a case that is sensitive enough to be required to be heard in a special tribunal and a case which is not so sensitive is absurd," he said.

"The reason why the case needs to be heard in the special tribunal is because it relates to undercover operations, arising out of personal or other relationships."

'Law needs reviewing'

At the heart of the case is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), introduced in 2000 to regulate state surveillance - according to BBC home affairs correspondent, Matt Prodger.

Jules Carey of Tuckers Solicitors, acting for the women who are suing, said the law "needs to be urgently reviewed".

She said: "I can't think of another country that officially sanctions police officers to use sexual relations with its citizens as a tactical policing option."

Campaigners have accused senior police officers of hypocrisy, our correspondent added.

He said: "Throughout the case lawyers for the Metropolitan Police have been arguing that the sexual relationships formed with female activists by one police spy, Mark Kennedy, were lawful; while outside court, a new code of police ethics is banning the technique."

More on this story