A Home Office statement announcing the new system of regulations said it would put an end to “unscrupulous activity” as, under the current arrangements, the system is not regulated and that opens the door for anyone to operate as a private investigator. It claims the current system poses a “high risk” of rogue investigators unlawfully infringing on people’s privacy.
The new regulations for private investigators to be licensed will come into force “as quickly as possible” with the new regime pencilled in to begin next year.
Under the new system, the maximum penalty for those found working as an unlicensed private investigator or supplying unlicensed investigators will face a fine of up to £5,000 and up to six months in prison.
Licences will be granted by the existing security industry regulator, the SIA, and all applicants will have to meet a set criterion of standards. The licence also applies to any contractors working on private investigations for companies. Investigative activities carried out for the purposes of publishing legitimate journalistic material will be excluded from regulation.
The criteria includes completing training and achieving a government-recognised qualification that gives them the understanding of relevant laws and standards, to give them the skills to ethically conduct activities. Applicants will also have to confirm their identity and undergo a thorough criminality check.
Home Secretary Theresa May said: “It is vital we have proper regulation of private investigators to ensure rigorous standards in this sector and the respect of individuals’ rights to privacy.
“That is why I am announcing today the Government’s intention to regulate this industry, making it a criminal offence to operate as a private investigator without a licence.
“Anyone with a criminal conviction for data protection offences can expect to have their application for a licence refused. Journalists will be excluded from regulation to allow them to carry out legitimate investigations in the public interest.”