Public Inquiry Progress Briefing

stayinformedWe have written a Progress Briefing on the Inquiry into Undercover Policing. Below is the introduction, written by Harriet Wistrich, Solicitor for the Eight Women Case. The briefing is downloadable here: Inquiry Progress Nov16.

When the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced in parliament on 6 March 2014 that she was persuaded of the need for a judge led public inquiry to look into undercover policing, it was only a couple of days before we were due to go to court to defend a strike out application brought by the police against five of the original eight PSOOL has been supporting.  The strike out application made by the police was on the basis that they had a policy of ‘Neither Confirm Nor Deny’ in relation to undercover policing which meant that they couldn’t defend the claim.  The was the second ‘strike out’ application the police had brought, the first one being in relation to the other three women’s cases, where the police argued that the claims were wrongly started in the High Court and should have been brought in the highly secretive Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

As a result of the Home Secretary’s announcement, the police dropped their strike out application, although they maintained their stance of Neither Confirm Nor Deny.  I wondered how on earth the state could conduct a truly public inquiry into undercover policing, given the level or secrecy and resistance faced thus far.  To date after several years of civil litigation and now 16 months in to the public inquiry, there has still been no disclosure of any information regarding the operations of the undercover police units let alone any details revealed of the nature the undercover police activity in respect to any of the eight women.  So six years on from the first discoveries of this activity by the police, almost all that is known about the scandalous activities of the police is as a result of the women and other activists’ own detective work.

In this briefing, we provide a detailed update of all the steps that have been taken so far by the public inquiry since its formal commencement sixteen months ago.  Further details of all of this can also found on the public inquiry website.  In broad summary, progress has felt incredibly slow, as the inquiry has painstakingly gone through attempting to determine various legal procedures for assisting its decision making in terms of revealing details of undercover police officers cover names, providing any disclosure and offering any undertakings as to non prosecution with regard to evidence provision to the inquiry.  The most significant decision taken so far concerned the legal principles to be applied in respect of ‘restriction orders’, where fortunately, Lord Pitchford rejected the police argument that because of NCND the public inquiry could effectively be closed to the public!  However, the process now in terms of decisions in respect to the revealing of cover names of undercover police officers or in respect of what can be disclosed to the non police core participants, is painstakingly slow and complex.  It is not yet clear how many officers are likely to be offered anonymity and how much disclosure will be provided.  There are now four former undercover officers whose cover names have been revealed, all of who had sexual relationships with activists, Bob Lambert, Jim Boyling, Marco Jacobs and Carlo Neri.   In addition Mark Kennedy and Peter Francis are represented separately from the other undercover officers.  There are many more pending applications for restriction orders which are unlikely to be determined till late spring or summer next year and we don’t know how many of these will be successful.  Until this process is completed, it is not anticipated that there will be any public hearings.  We do not yet have much of an idea how the public hearings will work and what will be the scope of evidence taking in relation to the issues that fall within the terms of reference.

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