Investigators' Update: Regulation - a step closer
Today the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has published a report on private investigators.
The report, which was precipitated in part by the phone hacking scandal, recommends that:
- the Government should set up a licensing and registration system for private investigators, and that they should be governed by an industry Code of Conduct;
- there should be a one year "cooling off period" between serving as a police officer and entering the investigation industry, and that dealings between police and investigators should be documented;
- the penalties for offences relating to the unlawful obtaining, disclosure and selling of personal data under section 55 of the Data Protection Act should be strengthened.
"the public must be assured that those acting as 'private investigators' are subject to stringent checks, act under a code of conduct, and will face tough penalties if they step out of line"
The concept of licensing for private investigators has been in gestation for many years (the Private Security Industry Act 2001 contained provisions for a licensing regime). However, this report, and the anticipated recommendations arising from Lord Leveson's Inquiry, are likely to accelerate its arrival. Whilst the principle of licensing is welcomed by many in the industry, "investigation" covers many activities, so it may be difficult to determine who will have to be licensed in practice.
The proposed "cooling off period" for police officers moving into private practice also appears fraught with potential difficulties, not least the prospect of individuals with valuable skill sets being temporarily unemployed, and prospective employers facing a recruitment crisis.
For those who do become licensed, the report suggests the award of the protected title,"Private Investigator". It also suggests that they should be provided with "increased access to certain prescribed databases", citing the on-line vehicle-keeper database as an example. The prospect of preferential access to otherwise private data sources will give competitive advantage to those who are licensed, and this is a development which we consider the industry should embrace.
To access the full report please click here
For further information please contact Tony Lewis, Partner, Alexandra Underwood, Partner at Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP.