Written 14th February 2014 by Olliers Solicitors

Public authorities have for many years used a wide range of investigatory techniques to investigate suspects of crime without the knowledge that they are the subject of an investigation. These include the use of covert surveillance and the use of covert human intelligence sources.

It is essential for the maintenance of law and order and the protection of the public to use these sources as they can provide valuable information that may not have otherwise come to light.


The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) was originally introduced in order to intercept communications in certain circumstances, however, in 2010 to 2012 public authorities were carrying out more covert surveillance and using more human intelligence sources and this needed to be regulated.

RIPA was amended to include the use of Covert surveillance and the use of Covert Human Intelligence as well as regulate communications. Covert surveillance is the undercover monitoring of specifically targeted individuals in public places or in residential premises and Covert Human Intelligence sources are individuals who establish or maintain a relationship with someone for the purpose of obtaining and disclosing information at the direction of a public authority.

Codes of Practice

RIPA is supported by Codes of Practice to guide those who seek to exercise the powers under the Act. It seeks to ensure that public authorities are acting lawfully by requiring them to justify why it was necessary to carry out the covert activity and show that it was necessary and proportionate to carry out the operation; this is in order to protect Human Rights.

The Government has now announced that they are seeking to further amend these Codes in order to protect public privacy. The amendments will include limiting the authorities use of surveillance under RIPA to offences which attract a sentence of six months or more of imprisonment, increasing the authorisation levels for the use of undercover officers, including the requirement for local authorities to get judicial approval of their use of RIPA, and if an authority would like to establish or maintain a covert relationship with another person who is not a target in the operation then authorisation should be sought and some technical changes will also be made. RIPA will also need to fall in line with the Human Rights Act (1998).

Saskia Abbot

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