Legislation of this profession is a thing which, as Investigators, we have been asking for and, as a profession, is most certainly needed. To get the 'rogues' out of the business though it's not simply enough to license Private Investigators, as it is still far too easy to set up and operate as Private Investigator with no checks being made. Ideally approaches have to be made to Google, Yellow Pages, Yahoo etc. etc. ensuring that a copy of a License to Practice MUST accompany all advertising. This should be a prerequisite before any advertising is placed in any media.
It wasn't that long ago when I wanted to say a "24hr Service" in my Yellow Pages advertisement and had to make a declaration to Yellow Pages that I was a 24hr business and they made me jump through hoops before they allowed me to advertise it!!! To truly clear the rogue element from this profession, who could trade from an anonymous website effectively without a license, stricter guidelines will be necessary.
The large majority of Private Investigators who undertake complex investigations legally on a day to day basis and would never consider the need to hack a voicemail, obtain a bank statement or a persons' medical records to solve their case, but reading the Press over the last couple of years the public could be mistaken for thinking that this is all we do.
The Home Secretary Theresa May has mentioned suitable criteria for licensing however this in itself raises a host of other issues. There are 10,000 PI's within the UK all of whom will need to meet those criteria, presumably by the autumn of 2014. What, in my opinion, would be inadvisable is that Training Agencies are formed in a 'free for all' to 'test' this 10,000, many of which have been trading successfully for years, and therefore placing a financial burden where it isn't necessary.
Most states in the US, where the profession has been recognised for many years, have a 'grandfathering system' in which an automatic License is granted for those that have been in business for a required time and I see no reason why such cannot be applied here in the UK.
Is it right that an individual with many years in Law Enforcement, for example, is required to sit an exam to qualify for a License to practice as a PI ? And what about an individual who has been successfully trading as a PI for many years? Suddenly then needing to be judged by a company who themselves may not even exist today but by 2014 have arrived to fill the vacuum in 'testing' for competence to be a Private Investigator. The good news however is that self-regulation has, thankfully, been ruled out as this takes it out of the various Association hands and thereby negates any accusations of impropriety when making complaints against Investigators.
So what does the public do in the meantime, whilst waiting for the end of 2014 ?
The answer is that they should use a professional PI Agency that is a member of a recognised TRADE Association of which there are three in the UK. The World Association of Professional Investigators (WAPI), The Institute of Professional Investigators (IPI) and the Association of British Investigators (ABI) all of whom have a list of Members and operate a disciplinary procedure. They are Private Investigator TRADE Associations, and if you are looking to hire a private investigator you would be as well advised to choose a member from one of these associations. There are of course other smaller bodies that have a logo to offer members but membership of these is often simply about paying a fee and no formal membership criteria exist. The three associations listed above are all proper formal trade associations and have stringent membership criteria which set them apart from the rest.
The public can check the bonafides of the Agency of their choice via one of the above Associations at any point and reassure themselves that the person they are talking to is a genuine Private Investigator who operates within the law and to a professional code of conduct.
Sadly there are no guarantees in life but when choosing your Private Investigator this choice should be made, as with any other professional, with extreme care.
Tony Smith is a director at Insight Investigations