Force fails in court bid to keep CHIS numbers being revealed

Police Scotland has lost a test case to stop the number of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) for the last three years being revealed.

Aug 7, 2017

Police Scotland has lost a test case to stop the number of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) for the last three years being revealed. The force failed in a court attempt to stop the information from being released after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. Now the national force has published the figure – 759 – for the period April 2013 to January 2016 after a hearing went through the Court of Session. Under FoI legislation the Sunday Herald asked Police Scotland in January last year for the amount paid to CHIS, a copy of all standard operating procedures on the practice, as well as the number of covert sources since the force was formed. The force answered the first two questions – total spend in the first two years had come to nearly £400,000 – but refused the final request. Police Scotland believed publishing the number could help organised crime groups and deter informants from coming forward in the future. However, the Scottish Information Commissioner, which adjudicated on the dispute, ordered disclosure after rejecting the force’s arguments: “The Commissioner considers the submissions she has received are general in nature, speculative, and do not evidence how disclosure of the information requested would be the catalyst of any of the harm claimed by Police Scotland.” The SIC added: “The Commissioner fails to see how disclosure of the information requested would place anyone at the remotest risk of identification, or provide any SOCG [Serious Organised Crime Groups] with the remotest indication that it has been infiltrated, as claimed by Police Scotland.” The force disagreed with the ruling and challenged the SIC in the Court of Session. However, the civil appeal judges rejected the appeal. On July 31, the force confirmed 759 CHIS had been ‘recruited’ in the three-year period. The newspaper also asked Police Scotland if the force wanted to comment on the figures, or whether any of the informants were linked to campaign and protest groups. Detective Superintendent Paul Donaldson said: “The use of Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS) is a tactic which is successfully used proportionately and legitimately to support the police service in keeping the people of Scotland safe. It is a well-established, highly-regulated and independently-scrutinised tactic.” A force spokesperson explained to Police Professional that the FoI request had been seen as a “test case” – the first time the court had revealed a figure for CHIS. But the force said the court had agreed to a single number being a “one-off” event. The spokesperson said much of the information was “already in the public domain anyway”.

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