04/09/2014 06:22 BST | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 GMT

The Clock Is Ticking for Unlicensed Private Investigators

At the end of July last year Theresa May announced a "new system of regulation for private investigators to protect the public from unscrupulous activity." She went on to outline the current system which was described as "...not regulated, allows anyone to work as a private investigator, regardless of their skills, experience or criminal convictions. This presents a high risk of rogue investigators unlawfully infringing on the privacy of individuals."

The solution was to introduce licencing for Private Investigators making it a criminal offence to operate as a private investigator without a licence.

The plan was that by 'Autumn 2014' there would be in place a system of regulation with licences granted by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) only when an applicant had successfully;

  • completed training and achieved a government-recognised qualification, which includes understanding of relevant laws and standards, and the skills required to conduct activities ethically;
  • confirmed their identity; and
  • undergone a thorough criminality check.

The current state of affairs was bound to come unstuck, particularly after the Leveson Inquiry at which I gave evidence about the state of the Private Investigator industry in this country. At the Inquiry when asked for a view on the future regulation of Private Investigators and I said then;

"We'd like to see it happen. Certainly in my opinion, and I can only speak from my opinion here, this profession is in disarray, this profession is so fragmented, there are so many associations, all with a self-interest, and there are people who will not join those associations because they feel that if they come into the associations they will be tied by one person's idea, another person's idea. It needs regulation. Via the SIA would be ideal, but it needs firm regulation."

So here we are over a year on from the initial puff of smoke from the Government chimney and yet still no signs of a regulatory environment being put in place. Not only that but we are still at odds with some of the current views on training of a Private Investigator.

For example the initial bullet point above stated that an applicant needed to have "completed training and achieved a government-recognised qualification" but as yet we don't know what training is required. Nor do we know what qualifications are going to be recognised nor why these would be the best qualifications.

What about many of the reliable, honourable and professional Private Detectives in this country who have been practicing for 20 or 30 years; what qualifications are they supposed to pass and who is setting the qualifications?

To date the main suggestions appear to be newly formed bodies that will test and train in this area but none so far appear to have as much experience as the people whom they are supposed to regulate. It's a bit like asking a nineteen year old who has been driving a year to become the person who decides whether experienced Driving Instructors can practice.

So whilst the clock ticks down towards the day the industry is supposed to be regulated there are still some fundamental questions that need to be answered by the Government.