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Communtity Law Manual | Activism | Undercover police and police use of informants

Surveillance and monitoring of activists by the state

Undercover police and police use of informants

Informants or undercover police officers can be used to extract information from relationships of trust. Whether they are an activist who has “turned”, or they have worked their way into trusted circles, they can be very disruptive and can lead to the destruction of otherwise positive, productive groups. There is no easy way to identify or approach the matter. Accusations and paranoia can be just as destructive as an actual undercover informant.

Informants may be motivated by a number of factors. Some are paid police staff, others may have been promised immunity for previous crimes and some may believe they are serving an essential role in upholding the law.

What information can informers give to the police?

Evidence Act 2006

Generally, there are no restrictions on who can provide information to the police. So if someone in a group decides to pass information to the police they are free to do so.

However, where informers are asked to give evidence in court, questions about whether the information is fit as evidence can be raised.

Informers are often paid and therefore it could be argued that they have an incentive to provide evidence. Informants will also seek to protect their identity and give evidence anonymously. These factors normally make evidence unusable by police. Other issues to consider are:

  • Unfairness – The case of R v Cameron considered the situation where a defendant made a statement to an undercover police officer regarding previous offending. The court decided that because Cameron had made the statement voluntarily to a person who happened to be a police officer it was not unfair to use it as evidence.
  • Entrapment – If you have been encouraged or incited to offend by the police, the court will look to how the police acted. If they have unreasonably encouraged you, beyond what others in a similar situation may do, then it is possible the court may refuse to admit the evidence.
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