Statutory Regulation of the Press?

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Lord Leveson

After month and months of speculation as to the contents of the “Leveson Inquiry”, the full report has now finally been published to a large public divide of opinion. Lord Justice Leveson himself summarised the inquiry as; "the most public and the most concentrated look at the press that this country has seen" and the overall recommendation that has arisen from the inquiry is that the free press in the UK should be regulated by legislation.

This involves the recommendation of a new independent self-regulatory body underpinned by law, pointing out that misbehaviour by the British press had undermined its own arguments that the press works in the public interest.

Whilst Prime Minister David Cameron has publicly responded to the report agreeing with large portions, he currently disagrees with Lord Justice Leveson’s opinion that the press need to have Statutory Regulations instilled in the UK to protect victims and celebrities alike from invasive investigative journalism by overzealous news reporters. Now whilst this is a consideration in the free press sector, my interest of the report stems from the possible future licencing of the Private Investigation sector.

Currently the Private Investigation industry is unlicenced and unregulated in anyway. Apart from a handful of Professional Associations, of which I myself am a Full Member of the World Association of Professional Investigators, there is no requirement for any investigator in the UK to be registered with any association or regulatory body, and that includes Investigators working on behalf of the national press.

With the Prime Minister denouncing regulation of the free press, and opting preferably for self-regulation, is it possible that this is the stance he will also take on the Private Investigation industry? I sincerely hope not. My industry is crying out for regulation. Maybe not as far as requiring every PI to go on a course to be re-educated in a profession most have been a part of for decades and decades, but at the very least we need to have a register of all licenced Private Investigators in the country and some sort of recognition, especially when it comes to the task of Process Serving.

At present most politicians and experts can hazard an educated guess that there are approximately 10,000 investigators currently operating in the UK, but I’m not so sure the figure is as high as this. My personal belief is that the number of full time practicing PI’s is probably closer to the 4,000 mark, but that’s where the issue lies. No one knows for sure. What licencing would do is take an industry where some of it’s practioners like to operate in the shadows, and move it into the 21st century. I know that we already have laws (including the Date Protection Act) that keep the majority of the industry on the correct side of the law, but there are still the odd few who digress from the path and cross over into the immoral and illegal, and by shining a light on this handful of rogues who feel they can offer any information a person needs for the ‘right price’, hopefully it will weed them completely out of the business quicker and for good.

So let’s hope the Leveson Inquiry hasn’t clouded an issue which should have been clear cut from the start.

Written by Martyn Kemp
Kemp Investigations and Legal Services
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