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BLOG: Surveillance – why are the police bypassing regulation?

8th July 2024

Most will remember the irony of RSPB staff falling foul of the courts in order to try and catch others breaking the law – and then expressing outrage when their evidence was thrown out of court here. In short, judges felt the police could not use others to circumvent the law on covert surveillance.

Is surveillance in this country difficult for the police?

No. Covert surveillance by the police and other public bodies falls under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 here which hands public bodies more powers than in any other common law country in the world – because surveillance here does not require authorisation by a judge. In the case of wildlife surveillance, the decision is simply taken by a senior police officer.

What test do the police have to apply?

To deploy covert surveillance the police must simply:

  1. identify one or more of the legal grounds within the Act and
  2. decide how its use is proportionate.

So, if the police can justify (to itself) that covert surveillance is appropriate it can do as it likes.

What are the police doing now?

The police Wildlife Crime Unit has now begun visiting private estates asking them to sign a rather innocently named ‘Land Permission Letter’. This asks a landowner to agree to:

  • Provide authority for officers of North Yorkshire Police to enter the land under my management at any time and to use equipment for the purposes of crime prevention and detection.
  • Provide authority for officers from the NWCU to enter the land under my management at any time to install cameras, proximity alarms and other equipment on and around nest and roost sites.

The letter goes on to say that ‘where possible’ it will notify the landowner when it will be on your land.

Why are the police doing this?

The police already has the power to do all this. There is no need for the police to ask permission from a landowner – unless the police can’t justify (to itself) that covert surveillance is proportionate. If the police are trying to bypass the regulation on surveillance that is a matter of concern and we have asked the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police for a meeting.

Should I sign one of these letters?

No. Not until you have taken legal advice. The existing RIPA legislation gives the police all the surveillance powers it might need (more than any other police force in the EU) so it can’t possibly insinuate its work is being hampered.

You should ensure all legislation has been considered including the Wildlife and Countryside Act (we have recently received a report of a Natural England contractor believed to have disturbed a Schedule 1 nest resulting in the loss of all chicks). There are also issues around privacy and data protection (both of staff and the public).

Note: The police have emphasised that landowners are at liberty not to sign these letters and that it feels that when it asks to place monitoring equipment, even when not disclosing what it is doing, it does not amount to covert surveillance.

IUCN Guidelines on human-wildlife conflict and coexistence

These global guidelines were published last year here but we are concerned that the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) appears intent on ignoring them. We have written to the NWCU making it clear that promoting the views, language and aspirations of activists is inconsistent with these guidelines.

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Did You Know?

75% of Europe’s remaining upland heather moorland is found in the UK – but this area declined alarmingly over the latter part of the last century. The Moorland Association was set up in 1986 to coordinate the efforts of moorland owners and managers to halt this loss, particularly in England and Wales.

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BLOG: Surveillance – why are the police bypassing regulation? Most will remember the irony of RSPB staff falling foul of the courts in order to try and catch others breaking the law – and then expressing outrage when their evidence was thrown out of court here. In short, judges felt the police could not use others to circumvent the law on covert surveillance. Is […]