Councils will need court approval to use spy law

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COUNCILS across the area will be forced to get approval from magistrates when they want to use spy laws to investigate crimes.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) sets down how local authorities can use covert surveillance.

In many cases, councils in the area use RIPA to catch fly-tippers, people who repeatedly let their dogs foul pavements or shops selling alcohol or cigarettes to children.

But in November, a change in the law means councils will only be able to use the powers to investigate serious crimes.

And all uses of surveillance have to 
be approved by a magistrate.

Portsmouth City Council says the change in law will not have an impact on the surveillance it carries out.

Jon Bell, the council’s head of audit and performance improvement, said: ‘Portsmouth City Council’s use of the RIPA powers is always done with extreme care and only when proportionate to the nature of investigations.

‘Its use is always when there is suspicion of criminal cases. Recent examples have tended to be fraudulent use of disabled badges and the sale of alcohol and cigarettes to children.

‘It is not anticipated the changes will have a significant impact on this.’

From November, councils can only use RIPA to investigate activities which would lead to a minimum six-month prison term or to help protect children, such as surveillance on the sale of alcohol.

Hampshire County Council says its use of RIPA is mostly down to work carried out by Trading Standards.

The county council will give officers the power to appear before a magistrate to gain approval for these uses, such as going undercover to tackle the problem of counterfeit goods.

The leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Ken Thornber, said: ‘Hampshire County Council is committed to putting local people first and will use every possible measure to catch rogue traders, doorstep criminals and scam artists who cheat the taxpayer or prey on elderly or vulnerable residents.’

Havant Borough Council said in the last 12 months it has only used RIPA powers once, to investigate reports of an unauthorised taxi driver in the town.