Children being used as informants must have an appropriate adult present in meetings with the authorities, revised official guidance says.
A revised code of practice for use of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS), published on Wednesday by the Home Office, states that a parent, guardian, personal contact or professional such as a social worker should be present at meetings between sources aged under 16 and the police, intelligences services or other public authorities.
The requirement did not feature in an earlier version of the code, published in 2014. Its inclusion follows intense scrutiny of the practice of using child spies, after peers discovered powers covering the practice in obscure secondary legislation.
“Public authorities must ensure that an appropriate adult is present at any meetings with a CHIS under 16 years of age,” the code states. “The appropriate adult should normally be the parent or guardian of the CHIS, unless they are unavailable or there are specific reasons for excluding them, such as their involvement in the matters being reported upon, or where the CHIS provides a clear reason for their unsuitability.
“In these circumstances another suitably qualified person should act as appropriate adult, eg someone who has personal links to the CHIS or who has professional qualifications that enable them to carry out the role (such as a social worker).”
The code retains a passage prohibiting the use of CHIS sources under 16 being used to give information on their parents or legal guardians.