Unlawfully obtaining or accessing personal data is a criminal offence under section 55 of the Data Protection Act. However, whether information is to be considered to have been obtained unlawfully will be the question for investigators and prosecutors to consider before bringing any charges. The usually considerations will have to be made. Is there a realistic prospect of success and is it in the public interest to prosecute.
Whether information was accessed and acquired without the knowledge of the organisation/individual concerned is not the only question to be asked and answered. It is the first question but the more difficult part of any enquiry may be not only the knowledge and expectations of the ‘client’ but whether the information was genuinely required for a ‘public interest’.
People who ask lawyers to instruct an enquiry agent often do so because within the ambit of litigation it is assumed the other party is looking to deceive the court by producing false evidence or by burying material that the court process needs to make a Just or proper decision. The Public Interest is not a question of what sells newspapers. It is a much more important issue and most people would consider the system of civil justice is of such importance that uncovering wrong doing aimed at defeating the Justice the Courts can give is of public interest as we must all have an interest in wanting to trust the courts to reach the right decisions.
On the other hand an enquiry agent may be used to spy on the opposition to acquire information it is not entitled to such as the advice being given by the lawyers for the other side or simply to find ‘dirt’ that is not really relevant but might be misused to force a poor settlement that actually defeats Justice.
Those involved in the industry of Law are well aware that there are many cases where there is real concern that lies are being told and evidence and assets being hidden such that the other side will not be able to receive the relief that would otherwise be granted by the Court. We can read about high value divorce cases where a great deal of time and money is spent to put assets beyond the reach of the former spouse. Unfortunately, the real damage is done in cases where the assets are not very great and the hiding of assets will cause genuine hardship to (usually) the divorcing wife and the children.
There needs to be some real debate on these matters. People need to know where the line is drawn, how do you step over it and expect to be prosecuted if the line is blurred? Is a belief in the morality of your enquiry relevant or do you need to have the evidence before you set out down this road? Using an enquiry agent should not be a concern, but nowadays everyone has to think twice about instructing one just in case they get dragged into something like this when they did nothing wrong themselves.
It has been said that there is no prison sentence that can be given in a case against the clients. Where those clients were professionals following their client’s instructions they are at risk of losing their professional status. It happens if information is lost by accident so we need to understand the impact of what should have been a simple investigation that in the past may not have interested investigators but now the Metropolitan Police need to clear their name in this sorry mess. They need to know that clearing their name is not to be achieved by pursuing other headline grabbing ‘suspects’.
Contact Dennis Clarke to discuss your needs and agree a fee structure to deal with this.