Theresa May forced to publish secret order on crimes by MI5

March 1, 2018

The Prime Minister has, today, been forced to publish a previously secret order governing criminal activity by British security services. This is the first time that the UK Government has acknowledged that guidance exists to regulate such activity within the United Kingdom by MI5 agents.

The order – referred to as the ‘Third Direction’ in official documents – was only published after a seven-month legal battle by Reprieve and Privacy International. It instructs the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to oversee the participation of MI5 agents in criminal activity.

The order was first made in 2014, but until now the Government has claimed that its publication would undermine national security. Theresa May continues to refuse to publish the guidance to the security services that governs when and in what circumstances individual officers are permitted to break the law.

Reprieve is launching a video called Charade in collaboration with the artist David Birkin which features over 50 people – including Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Trevor Paglen, Peter Kennard, and Martha Rosler – acting out what activity they think agents could be involved in. It will be screened in public places across the UK this spring as part of a campaign calling on the Government to publish the Guidance.

Commenting, Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve said:

“After a seven-month legal battle the Prime Minister has finally been forced to publish her secret order but we are a long way from having transparency. The public and Parliament are still being denied the guidance that says when British spies can commit criminal offences and how far they can go. Authorised criminality is the most intrusive power a State can wield. Theresa May must publish this guidance without delay.”

Millie Graham Wood, a solicitor at Privacy International, said:

“There is no justification why this secret direction, whose existence was revealed as a result of Privacy International’s litigation, was not published earlier. Had we not sought to challenge the Government over the failure to publish this direction, together with Reprieve, it is questionable whether it would have ever been brought to light. Yet again the Government proves it is incapable of even basic transparency particularly when it concerns controversial functions of the intelligence agencies. It is wrong in principle for there to be entire areas of intelligence oversight and potentially of intelligence activity, about which the public knows nothing at all.”


Notes to Editors:

  1. The Prime Minister’s Written Ministerial Statement can be read here.