PIs should be licensed

5 May 2013

A Commons committee has recommended that all private investigators should be licensed, or the the very least registered, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal.   This follows evidence given by representatives of the trade at the Leveson Inquiry several months ago, requesting a statutory-backed licensing system.  

There is, of course, already legislation dealing with the illegality of phone-hacking.  A spokesman for the Home Office said: "We will carefully consider the committee's report. Given the relevance of this issue to the matters being considered by the Leveson Inquiry, we will await its findings to ensure they can be taken into account in the development of a suitably effective regulatory regime.  Private investigators remain subject to the law on intercepting communications like everyone else."

Evidence given to the committee of MPs suggests that 2,032 PIs are registered as 'data controllers' but there is also evidence to suggest that possibly as many as 10,000 people work as investigators.  Evidence suggested that 65% of investigators were former police officers.  Tony Imossi of the Association of British Investigators stated that licensing should have happened before but added "Licensing won't stop it. They need to make it a criminal offence to engage someone as a private investigator who is is not licensed".

The scheme proposes that a full licensing scheme should apply to 'full-time' investigators and private investigation companies, and that employees of businesses such as law firms or insurance companies who conduct investigative work on an occasional basis should also be required to be registered.  The committee also proposes an industry code of conduct, and that anyone with a criminal record be immediately disqualified from holding a license.

The report stated: "The rogue element of the industry not only causes significant harm in its own right, it drags down the reputation of the industry as a whole, damaging by association the reputations of many decent, honest, law-abiding and highly skilled investigators."

On the subject of regulation, Security Industry Authority (SIA) chief executive Bill Butler told the Leveson Inquiry "I think it's difficult to find anybody that doesn't think this is a good thing and something that should happen."

The Home Office has said that it will await the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry before taking any action on the recommendations.