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HAVE YOU BEEN “RIPPED OFF” BY RIPA?

We have noticed a recent disturbing departure by the RSPCA (The Society) and the Animal Protection Services (The Services) in the methods used to collect evidence to be used in the prosecution of alleged animal welfare offences.

Hopefully you will all be aware that the RSPCA and the Animal Protection Services are charities, who are vested with no special powers when it comes to the investigation of alleged criminal offences. They have no special powers than those vested in your and me! They are not charged with a duty to investigate and although they wear Police type uniforms, they have no powers, ie to arrest, carry out searches and the like.

Hopefully if you have been a regular reader of this blog, you will know that the Society and the Services do push the boundaries of empowerment continuously, relying upon the innocence and ignorance of those they are investigating.

In the year 2000, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) appeared on our statute books.

The Government appreciated that those statutory bodies who have a statutory duty to investigate, would need in certain circumstances to infringe upon the personal freedoms of the citizens of this country. RIPA was enacted to regulate those bodies who were authorised and specify in the legislation to carry out surveillance activity, which often would involve covert surveillance of an intrusive nature, ie into or onto a citizen’s property. The legislation will not be rehearsed in this blog, but needless to say, the Act outlined those bodies who are authorised to carry out covert surveillance to include as you would expect, authorities such as the Police, Customs and Excise, Trading Standards, in effect those bodies that one would expect to be trusted to carry out such sensitive operation, adhering to the very strict procedures as outlined in the legislation.

In a nutshell, the RIPA legislation laid down a strict procedure, which those authorised bodies must complete and go through (creating a challengeable paper trail) before such surveillance can be carried out, both the Society and the Services, they have purported to carry out such surveillance operations, notwithstanding the fact they are not an authorised body under the Act. The worry is that we are of the view that both the prosecution and defence Solicitors do not understand or are even aware that the legislation exists! The Society are aware of RIPA and the restrictions it places upon those who are authorised to investigate criminal offences. They have in place a procedure internally, which they say mirrors the procedures adopted by the Police. They refuse to disclose such procedures and in any event, we challenge their basic submission that because they are not included in that exclusive list in the statute, RIPA does not apply to them, an extraordinary statement of their understanding of statute law!

As far as the Services are concerned, we have only recently in the past few months come across this charity as an active player in the prosecution of alleged criminal offences. We were recently involved in a case when at the directions hearing, the prosecution Solicitor suggested that the case would last 2hrs of Court time, which was totally in denial of any RIPA issues in a case that involved a “Test Purchase” of a puppy in domestic premises.

There was no mention of RIPA and the necessity to comply with the same and the fact that they were not authorised under the RIPA le3gislation in any event, was not mentioned by the prosecution when they outlined their case to the Court. They carried out what amounts to covert, intrusive surveillance using a covert human intrusive source (CHIS), so what they did effectively was collect evidence in a totally unlawful way, which affects the admissibili9ty.

Either they weren’t aware of the RIPA regime, or they chose not to mention it. They do in fact provide quite an intimidating document to those Solicitors not familiar with consumer or animal welfare law, where there is no mention whatsoever of the RIPA regime. We of course have raised objection to the admissibility of the evidence obtained and will be arguing that all of the evidence that relates to the “Test Purchase” should be excluded. We wonder in how many cases both the Society and the Services have relied upon evidence obtained in breach of the RIPA legislation, and where clients have pleaded guilty to offences upon which the evidence was obtained unlawfully.

If you were convicted in any proceedings where surveillance evidence in photographic or video form or by intrusion upon your premises, we suggest that you look carefully at RIPA and whether you were convicted or advised to ple4ad guilty to evidence that should have been excluded.

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