The UK remains one of last frontiers where private investigators remain unregulated. So how’s that working out for us?
One only needs glance at any given newspaper from the over the past six months or so to find out that it things haven’t exactly been running smoothly.
The Leveson Inquiry heard evidence from journalists, private detectives and those who had been hacked, listened to and generally had their privacy invaded by the unholy collusion of those two professions.
It seemed no one was safe and it emerged that everyone from sports stars, politicians, high profile crime victims and celebrities from the A-list and Z-list alike had had their voicemails hacked into at some point in the name of ‘journalism.’
At the same time, the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence that showed private investigators had access to a thriving black market in personal information, with criminal records, medical records and even bank statements available for the price of a small payment to the right insider – or via a little bit of clever blagging.
What emerged was a damning picture of an industry out of control and with three major police investigations into phone hacking, computer hacking and corrupt payments to public officials likely to continue for the next 4 years at a cost of £40 million, it’s likely we’ve not heard the last of private investigators’ illegal escapades just yet.
Given such negative press, lawyers would be forgiven for thinking they are entering into a pact with the devil each time they instruct a process server, breaking into cold sweats when they imagine what nefarious methods might be employed in the average defence investigation.
Unfortunately, at present options for checking the veracity and professionalism of investigators is fairly limited. The Association of British Investigators (ABI) is the closest thing UK investigators have to a governing body, yet one of the worst offenders to be exposed to the home affairs select committee for breaches of the Data Protection Act was a fully paid up member.
In contrast many ethical operators, particularly smaller ones, consider ABI membership to be an unnecessary expense. All of this can make the business of choosing an ethical private investigator a somewhat complicated matter.
Most lawyers will have established good working relationships with a single process server or private detectives. Recommendations from colleagues will always be useful for those looking to instruct a new investigator and it seems that until the UK industry is regulated (2015 is currently being touted as a likely date) lawyers may just have to rely on the same instinct as the nvestigator: Good old fashioned gut instinct.
Full report by the Home Affairs Select Committee into private investigators:
Association of British Investigators website: