There can be all sorts of reasons for hiring a Private Investigator. Perhaps you suspect your spouse or partner of infidelity, or you think an employee may be calling in sick while being completely healthy. You could need to chase down a debt, or locate a missing person, or maybe even catch some fly-tippers or vandals in a criminal act. You might need to prove that your tenant is sub-letting your property, or that your soon-to-be former spouse is co-habiting with someone while demanding maintenance payments. It could even be something as simple as a background check on a new employee, or romantic partner.
Whatever the reason for hiring a Private Investigator, you will have hired them for their ability to provide you with evidence that is admissible in court. It seems quite obvious, if truth be told. After all, what is the point of gathering information that cannot be used to prove your case? In reality, however, it is far from straightforward, and the admissibility of the evidence gathered is as dependent upon your choice of Private Investigator as it is upon their choice of methodology.
The types of evidence
Not all evidence gathered through investigation is necessarily admissible in court. For example, ‘hearsay,’ or statements provided by people who are not present to provide the testimony themselves, is not admissible, but can be used in support of cases outside of the court system, such as in workplace investigations. Many types of evidence can be used in court, however, including:
- Documentary evidence – This refers to ‘documents’ that can be produced in a courtroom for a judge and jury to examine. When it is gathered by Private Investigators, documentary evidence can consist of photographs, video footage, activity logs, and written statements.
- Testimonial evidence – This refers to evidence given by a witness, under oath, in either written or verbal form. In other words, it is either a written and signed statement, or a verbal recounting and answering of questions.
- Physical evidence – This refers to an object, or an image or video of an object. In a criminal proceeding, this would refer to items such as a weapon, or a set of fingerprints recovered from a crime scene. In a non-criminal proceeding, this could refer to a visitor or guest log book, or an item that relates to the case.
- Original evidence – This refers to items or testimony characterised as an ‘out of court statement.’ Within a legal proceeding, this can sometimes be used to demonstrate the mental health status of the person in question.
For any kind of evidence to be admissible in court, it must have been gathered legally. This means that the Private Investigator and the individual that hired them must be able to prove that the evidence was collected through legal and ethical means. The Private Investigation industry is currently unregulated, and Private Investigators have no special dispensations. They are essentially private citizens and have the same access and means of investigation that any other member of the public would have. The thing that makes the right Private Investigator different to the average person is their training and skill-set. A professional Private Investigator will know where to look for the truth, and how to deal with it when it is uncovered.
A reasonable expectation of privacy
The legality of evidence gathered in an investigation depends upon the investigator respecting the law surrounding the reasonable right to privacy. In English law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) ensures that a person can expect to have a reasonable right to privacy even if they are suspected of wrongdoing, or of committing a crime. This applies to investigations by public authorities, including the police and intelligence services, and relates to Private Investigators when they are instructed by public bodies, such as Local Authorities.
When taking instruction from a private citizen, however, Private Investigators are bound by the rules of the Data Protection Act, as enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office. This ensures that private information gathered by Private Investigators – the processing of personal data – happens in accordance with law that provides a reasonable expectation of privacy. The legality here is determined by the ‘Legitimate Interests Assessment’ which asks three questions about the collection of the personal data: Is there a legitimate purpose? Is it necessary? Are the interests of all parties balanced?
The court admissibility of evidence gathered by Private Investigators is therefore dependent upon the supporting documentation. Private Investigators must keep meticulous records of the reasons for the collection of personal data; of the reasons for the methods used and, specifically, how this relates to the Legitimate Interests Assessment pertaining to the case in question. Regular adherence to this standard is usually reflected in accreditations earned by Private Investigation firms, from reputable professional bodies including the Association of British Investigators, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the Professional Investigators Network. It is also reflected in the successful registration of such firms with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Gathering court admissible evidence
With accurate completion of the Legitimate Interests Assessment in mind, there are several investigative methods available to Private Investigators that can produce evidence that is admissible in court.
Surveillance – This is probably the type of information gathering that most people think of when they consider the work of a Private Investigator, due to a combination of media representation and the fact that surveillance is also utilised by law enforcement and intelligence services in the pursuit of criminal charges. As a result of innovation in cutting edge technology, Private Investigators now have the ability to legally deploy a variety of surveillance strategies in order to uncover the truth of a case.
- Mobile surveillance – This can be used in cases of suspicion of infidelity, insurance or benefit fraud, or situations in which the location and movements of an individual need to be tracked and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. This type of surveillance can be undertaken on foot or on any kind of transportation, in any environment or territory, and can produce evidence in the form of photographs, video footage, and activity logs.
- Static surveillance – This can be used in cases of fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour, suspected sub-letting, suspected drug dealing, suspected co-habitation during divorce proceedings, and even in cases of agricultural crime. This type of surveillance can produce detailed activity logs, photographs, and video footage.
- Electronic surveillance – The owner and operator of an electronic system can consent to the ethical electronic surveillance of that system. This allows Private Investigators to legally collect evidence in the form of audio and video recordings, records of communications including phone calls, and logs of computer activity. This can be invaluable in cases of suspected employee theft, fraud, unauthorised absence, unauthorised or dangerous communications, and unauthorised on-site movements.
- GPS vehicle tracking – The owner and operator of a vehicle, or fleet of vehicles, can consent to the tracking of those vehicles using state-of-the-art GPS technology. This allows Private Investigators to gather evidence in cases of suspected vehicle misuse, moonlighting, and corporate sabotage.
- Counter surveillance – When a private individual suspects they are being surveilled, Private Investigators can deploy counter-surveillance measures to detect monitoring that is either unwanted, or illegal. This includes identifying methods such as hidden recording equipment or covert tracking and can involve the use of technology designed to block such surveillance devices. This can be useful in cases of suspected stalking, unwarranted investigations, or suspected cyber hacks or breaches.
- Social media and Public records searches
Unlike law enforcement officials or intelligence services operatives, Private Investigators have no specific powers vested to them by virtue of their role. However, using extensive training and experience, they can obtain a wealth of court admissible evidence through searches and examinations of public records and publicly available social media accounts. Cutting edge technology can be used to identify the digital footprint left by an individual, and this information can be collated and included in evidentiary reports.
- In-person questioning
Where necessary, trained Private Investigators can gather information about a case through the discreet in-person questioning of the neighbours, friends, colleagues, associates and family members of the individual that is the target of the investigation. Though ‘hearsay,’ is often not admissible in court, the information gathered from in-person questioning can be invaluable to all types of cases, in building a general picture of a situation or behaviour, which can then be included in support of a case.
Why is court admissible evidence needed in every case?
To prove an argument or case in a court of law is the gold standard in all forms of investigation – both private and public. This is because the justice system is, in general, the ultimate form of recourse available. If the information gathered in the course of an investigation is proof of the truth in a case, then to have that proof meet the standard of court admissibility means the veracity of that proof is largely irrefutable. If irrefutable court admissible evidence is used even in cases that do not require a court of law, then those cases can be resolved quickly and efficiently. To be clear, the highest standard should be met in all cases, whether it goes to court, or not.
OpSec Solutions is a highly regarded, professionally accredited Private Investigation firm that provides evidence to court admissible standards in all cases. This requires the utmost discretion, sensitivity, and confidentiality, as well as strict adherence to ethical guidelines and data protection law. Contact OpSec Solutions today to discuss the type of evidence you need in your case, and the methods available for its collection.