Private Investigators

Written evidence submitted by The Institute of Professional Investigators [PI06]


IPI Evidence

Since 1976 the Institute of Professional Investigators has sought to encourage and promote its members to achieve and maintain a high standard of professionalism whilst engaged in their investigative activities. Our organisation is the only "Institute" within the private investigation sector in the United Kingdom. We consider our membership to be truly representative of the investigation sector.

The Institute of Professional Investigators was formally created in 1976. Prior to that the primary organisation for private investigators (only) was the Association of British Investigators (ABI). ABI members sought to create an ‘academic’ arm to that trade association and this was catered for in an ABI vote circa 1975. However, a new Council came into being and the academic concept was shelved. As a result the members supporting the academic, professional ideal left the ABI and started the Institute.

Unlike the ABI, the IPI was opened up to professional investigators in other sectors, particularly the public sector – police forces, HM Forces, government departments, etc. There has never been a high uptake from the public sector, and their representation in the IPI remains small. Therefore the main body of our membership is made of investigators in private practice, with acceptable professional qualifications, and therefore eminently capable of assisting the Committee in its deliberations.

The Institute has been active from its inception in proposing the implementation of licensing for the UK private investigation industry, and in 1976 supported then MP Brian Walden in the introduction of a private members bill to that end.

Why regulation has not already been introduced, ten years after the Security Industry Act established a statutory framework for it.

Following the introduction of the Private Security Industry Act the Institute and partner associations including the ABI entered into voluntary consultation with the SIA with a view to assisting it in its work. The Investigations Sector |group was formed, and was highly representative of the sector.

The primary issue raised was simply identifying what ‘private investigation’ encompassed, and an initial list of some 169 activities was created. This must in some way have affected the timeliness of the introduction of licensing for our sector, and it was later narrowed down to a more manageable level. Suggestions were also made at that time (2002) about removal from the PSI Act with a view to the investigation sector coming under the legal regulatory regime, e.g. the SRA or similar. (That has now been adapted to a suggestion that the sector be overseen by the Ministry of Justice.)

The IPI attended all of the consultation events held by Kevern Oliver and Skills for Security, a process over almost 5 years that resulted in identifying 5 ‘core competency, areas that were felt by most (but not all) to address the main activities of investigation, namely ;

1. Conduct investigations – a generic title covering the client interview and management of enquiries.

2. Conduct interviews (witnesses and ‘suspects’).

3. Search for information and preserve evidence – including open source (public and internet) intelligence.

4. Conduct Surveillance – initially its conduct, then later reduced to understanding of surveillance law and method.

5. Understanding and working to relevant Laws and practices – the legal background to our activities, with some focus of prevention of harassment, data protections, human rights law and freedom of information.

These were detailed in a document dated August 2007. The content was made available to Awarding Bodies, at least one of whom (EDI) drafted a qualification and course to deliver it.

(In 2009 the main associations also assisted Skills for Security in reviewing the National Occupational Standards for Investigations which, although they were not the licence qualification in themselves, would have been a foundational document when developing qualifications for a licence. This was done routinely, and not prior to or specifically for the licence process.)

However, after these competencies were tentatively agreed to cover what was needed, the SIA then suggested that competence could be provided for through 60 hours training (30 for Precognition Agents in Scotland), a gross oversimplification of the work needed to become competent in this field. It seemed odd that ‘simple’ statement taking in Scotland needed 30 hours training, while additional training in surveillance, information gathering, interviewing, law and practice, tracing, etc. could be catered for in the same time period.

All that said, it was at this point that all consultation seemed to stop – I would state that this seemed to occur after a meeting at Skills for Security in September 2008, when the SIA heard what turned out to be final representations by the main associations and other interested parties.

The various consultation documents had been circulated up to this time including the PI/PA consultation, in essence based on or at least influenced by what had been ‘agreed’ at Skills for Security/SIA consultations, but at the point of an expected confirmation that licensing would be brought in by March 2011, election purdah was implemented. This has resulted in further delays because the whole process appears, on the face of it, to be starting again despite the levels of agreement and acceptance identified up until 2008.

In our opinion, the main factor in the delay (taking into consideration that licensing of the larger sectors took precedence) was a gross under-estimation of what private investigators do, and just how professional they wish to be at performing those functions.

This under-estimation could have resulted from a number of factors, e.g.

· Failure to realise that since a substantial proportion of private investigators come from the public sector, where they have undergone substantial training in law and methodology, no effective training model has been created in the private sector. As such, development of courses had to be undertaken by interested Awarding Bodies and training providers, who themselves were equally uninformed about the sector.

· Failure to understand that private investigation is a wider activity than insurance investigation, process serving, tracing and domestic investigation. We believe that the 169-area schedule was a surprise to the SIA.

· The possibly unexpected realisation that professional private investigators have a substantially higher level of expected knowledge (in law, court practices, scene forensics, etc.) than the other sectors licenced at the earlier stages. It is the Institute’s opinion that (ethical) private investigators’ activities are more akin to those of the legal sector and that their activities are directed more to service of that sector, and as such the relatively minimal licensing/competency models applied to the manned guarding, CVIT and close protection sectors were unlikely to be applied as effectively or as quickly to investigators, even if the licence administration process was the same.

· Perceived resistance by some of the larger investigative bodies (e.g. The Risk Advisory Group, Kroll, Control Risks) to the introduction of licensing for their staff. They are considered ‘major players’ and influential at a high level, and suggestions have been made in the past that their methods have, on occasion, been questionable. Anecdotally, their reluctance could be the result of a number of considerations, and their lack of involvement (save Control Risks) in SIA consultations attended by the other associations make it impossible to accurately identify their concerns. However, given that only character (CRO) and competence checks were mooted from the off, the rationale for their resistance is unknown – even cost implications would arguably have been minimal as their staff are usually experienced before engagement, and the fees they enjoy are supposedly quite substantial.

Whether the case for statutory regulation has been made, including the potential for harm to both clients and subjects of investigations in the unregulated industry.

All IPI members, identified by the nominative MIPI or FIPI, have proved to their peers, through objective assessment of their character and their academic and professional qualifications that they know what they are doing, will always act ethically and correctly, and will always justify their costs. The same applies to members of the Association of British Investigators. To the best of our knowledge, these criteria have not been applied by any other organisation or association, at least to the same degree.

The IPI is absolutely committed to professionalization of this industry. As things stand, anyone can get a car, a computer and a desk and style themselves as a private investigator. No training is required, nor is good character a prerequisite as it is in other professions. Nor is a convicted person barred from conducting enquiries. Given that properly founded investigations can and usually do result in or prevent court proceedings, an untrained, unethical investigation will have consequences for the ill-informed client. Improperly obtained evidence will not be admissible in (expensive) court actions. And, of course, evidence not obtained because of lack of knowledge/training/experience is no use to anyone. Clients and lawyers may also find themselves answering for the actions of their instructed investigator.

From another perspective, in the absence of regulation a client whose motives are questionable will find an unethical investigator – stalkers, criminals, etc. come to mind. In the USA, investigators have frequently been used by stalkers (etc.) to trace their intended victims, sometimes with fatal results. Put simply – if police officers regularly use the PNC to find things out in domestic or legal proceedings (for themselves or for paying clients), and the press uses unethical PIs for illegal activities to gain information to sell to the public, then an unethical PI will find a way to do the same, and for the same or worse purposes. Regulation that prevents or at least hampers this will make the unethical client think twice about undertaking an illegal activity either directly or through an agent. Such incidents can never be completely prevented, but at least the potential penalty will reduce occurrences of impropriety.

Another rationale – equity requires that both sides in a dispute have equal access to professional services. For example, would a defence lawyer expect a lesser service from their investigators than that provided by the Crown? The existence of a competence-based licensing regime would assist the legal profession by ensuring that only licenced, competent investigators serve them, and their clients’ interests.

Whether compulsory licensing should be part of the regulation and, if so, whether it should include competency criteria.

For these and other reasons, the IPI supported the SIA in requiring that both character and competency criteria were addressed in licensing for our sector, and will continue to advocate this approach.

The likely cost of regulation to Government and the industry.

For the industry, cost is a consideration. This can be balanced by the knowledge that many PIs, coming from the public sector, will obtain their training prior to needing a private licence. However, potential investigators who do not have this background (in particular school-leavers, graduates and ‘direct entrant’ investigators) may have to finance their own training, or have that training provided by an employer who can bear the cost.

It has been suggested by the SIA and EDI (a qualifications Awarding Body) that 60 hours training is acceptable for competence in investigation. That is a 7½ day training course - an estimated £2,500 minimum based on the cheaper end of the market seminar rates.

A basic police suspect/witness interview course is 5 working days; a surveillance course is 3 weeks (plus a 4 week driving course!); a law course can last weeks. A restriction or expectation that competent investigators can be created in 60 hours is therefore, in our opinion, overly ambitious and does not serve the industry or the client. (This may address those already in the sector who need an update, of course.)

Unfortunately, this means that potential costs to the industry could be untenable unless provided ‘in-house, on-the-job’, supported or replaced by distance learning. In balance, the Spanish requirement of a degree level qualification is equally untenable.

We feel there is a place for competence in licensing, for the reasons stated ante, but accept that the answer to question on the provision of training and qualifications may yet need to be answered.

However, the following observations may assist:

A Solicitor, paying £1,600 per annum for a practising certificate, has paid about £10,000 for the qualification, pays about £1,100 per annum for Continuous Professional Development and has insurance of about £20,000 per annum. This is too dear for our sector, and implies a degree level qualification.

A Legal Executive spends about £500 per annum on CPD and, if working in a firm, is not separately insured. Professional Indemnity Insurance, not a condition of a licence under the current regime, costs anything from £200-£1,000 for reasonable cover.

A Bailiff pays £250 per TWO years, but must re-apply every two years at full cost, which has increased with every Court fees increase. Subject to having no claims, Insurance is £300 per annum, possibly slightly less. The process also includes advertising the application, (about £350) obtaining CCJ and CRB checks, two a time, one at the commencement of the application and one a week before the Application Hearing. (An extra £80p lus). So, the best part of £600 per annum, every year.

If it assists, a costing analysis was completed and contained in the PI/PA document of July 2007, which can be provided either by us, or the SIA.

The cost of regulation to Government is not something the Institute is qualified to comment upon, but that said, it should not be any greater than that to which it was exposed for the other sectors hitherto licenced.

Concluding Statement

The professionals in this sector have sought licensing for many years. They seek the recognition for their professionalism that licensing will demonstrate. They want to be licenced as soon as possible, and once licenced will seek to prove their eligibility to have access to facilities which have been denied them thus far.

It is true that investigators would like access to some public body databases (e.g. Land Registry, DVLA) without the obstacles currently placed in their way but it is not our case that licensing should automatically result in greater access, but it is our case that licensing will be a first step in earning the professional respect that will one day make that access justifiable, as it seems to be in other countries.

The professional associations’ representatives have volunteered their time in assisting the SIA and associated bodies in development of a licensing regime that will address all the concerns of the industry, government and the public. We feel it is time that we had a return on our investment, one that reflects our own desire to be recognised as the professionals that we are, and to move away from the populist view of the man in the mac, or the phone hacking criminals who besmirch our profession’s title.

January 2012

Prepared 13th March 2012