Agenda item

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) - overview

The Interim Head of Strategy, Information and Governance, Ann-Marie Johnstone will be in attenance to provide the panel with an update on the Surveilance Policy.


The Chair welcomed The Interim Head of Strategy, Information and Governance, Ann-Marie Johnstone to the meeting to provide the panel with an update on the Surveillance Policy.


The Interim head of service outlined that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) is the law governing the use of surveillance techniques by public authorities, including local authorities.


RIPA was enacted as part of a suite of legislation flowing from the Human Rights Act 1997. The Act requires that when public authorities need to use covert techniques to obtain information about someone, they only do so if surveillance is necessary, proportionate, and compatible with human rights.


The Act and supporting guidance set out a prescribed process that the Council must comply with if it deems that it is necessary to exercise its powers under RIPA.


For Public Authorities, there is an option to exercise powers under RIPA, where it meets the tests of necessity, proportionality and combability with the Human Rights Act, in relation to the following suspected offences:


·       a suspected offence could result in a custodial sentence of more than 6 months,

·       or where it is suspected that alcohol or cigarettes are being sold to children,


Where approval was given by a magistrate, covert surveillance can then be undertaken.  The Council has not exercised its powers under RIPA since 2019.


The Interim Head of service stated that the Council has in place a Surveillance Policy which sets out how the Council would process an application under RIPA.   This policy is reviewed by the Executive Member for Finance and Governance on an annual basis. It was last reviewed in December 2022.


The policy applies to all overt and covert surveillance undertaken by or on behalf of the Council. The policy includes not only RIPA based surveillance but also defines the grounds on which the Council would consider that it has legitimate reasons to conduct surveillance for grounds other than RIPA and the processes that must be complied with before any surveillance can be undertaken.  The Surveillance policy identifies that the Council may determine it has a need to carry out covert surveillance to progress investigations outside of the RIPA framework, where (i) while significant, the matters under investigation may not typically result in criminal proceedings, or (ii) the potential criminal offence(s) under investigation are likely to attract a penalty below the RIPA threshold.


Examples of such instances include but are not limited to:


·       suspected benefit fraud;

·       children at risk as court orders are not being respected;

·       serious cases of anti-social behaviour; or

·       contractors failing to carry out contracted works.



The policy applies to all Council employees and any other party undertaking surveillance on behalf of the Council by contract.


The officer outlined that the information on the use of RIPA is also reported to Corporate Affairs and Audit Committee on an annual basis as part of the Senior Information Responsible Officer (SIRO) report.


Following the presentation, the head of service advised that the council has used the RIPA powers once on 2018 and again in 2019 and was generally used by public protection and the police.


AGREED- that the update be noted and the panel received their annual update in the municipal year 2023/24

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