Watching the detectives

Private eyes should be regulated, partners tell Commons committee

The relationship between law firms and private investigators (PIs) came under scrutiny last week after the issue was initially raised in the Leveson Inquiry.

Giving evidence before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Farrer & Co partner Julian Pike, Grosvenor Law partner Dan Morrison and Bindmans partner Mike Schwarz said the use of surveillance can range from catching benefits cheats on behalf of local councils to corporate diligence and large-scale fraud.

All three lawyers said firms would never knowingly instruct investigators to break the law, but accepted that it did happen and called for regulation.

Schwarz said: “[PIs] are instructed by solicitors to act as surrogate solicitors in the course of criminal investigations and the like. They liaise as if lawyers, but aren’t regulated like lawyers.”

Morrison commented: “Large firms get the big jobs, but they don’t have the resources or the surveillance teams on hand all the time. They subcontract that out. That tends to mean there’s no way of really controlling, as a lawyer, who’s doing the work.

“The benefit of a regulatory regime is to control and flush out the undesirables. Certainly, the bottom end of the market’s populated by people who’ll leave no stone unturned, irrespective of the legality, probity or ethical propriety of what they’re doing.”

Speechly Bircham has clarified that it was not party to any illegal payments after its relationship with PI firm Risc was highlighted by Schwarz at the hearing.