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Planning Law Solicitors

Proposed changes to Council surveillance powers

April 26th, 2011 by Louise Humphreys

Posted In: Information Rights

Tags: RIPA, surveillance, CCTV, investigations

Plans to curtail the surveillance powers used by local authorities are currently going through parliament in the Protection of Freedoms bill.

CCTV and other surveillance cameras

Further regulation of surveillance camera systems is proposed. Surveillance camera systems are defined as CCTV, ANPR and other surveillance camera technology operated by the police and local authorities.

The Secretary of State will have to prepare a code of practice for such systems which must must include guidance in relation to the development or use of surveillance camera systems and the use and processing of information derived from them.

Local authorities will be required to have regard to the code if they operate or intend to operate any surveillance camera systems. Failure to adhere to the code will not in itself render an authority liable to legal proceedings, but a failure to comply with the code could be used in criminal or civil legal proceedings.


The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ("RIPA") will be amended so as to require local authorities to obtain the approval of a magistrate for the use of any one of the three covert investigatory techniques available to them under RIPA. Currently authorisations may be grated by senior officers within each authority. An approval will also be required if an authorisation to use such techniques is being renewed.

In each case, the role of the magistrate will be to ensure that the correct procedures have been followed and the appropriate factors have been taken account of. The new provisions will allow the magistrate, on refusing an approval of an authorisation, to quash that authorisation.

Approval can only be given if the magistrate is satisfied that:

  • There were reasonable grounds for the authorising officer approving the application to believe that the directed surveillance or deployment of a Covert Human Intelligence Source ("CHIS") was necessary and proportionate and that there remain reasonable grounds for believing so.
  • The authorising officer was of the correct seniority within the organisation
  • The granting of the authorisation was for the prescribed purpose, as set out in the 2010 order, i.e. preventing or detecting crime or preventing disorder.
  • Any other conditions set out in any order under part 2 of RIPA are satisfied

In addition to the above, where the authorisation is for the deployment of a CHIS, the magistrate must be satisfied that:

  • The provisions of section 29(5) have been complied with. This requires the local authority to ensure that there are officers in place to carry out roles relating to the handling and management of the CHIS as well as the keeping of records
  • Where the CHIS is under 16 or 18 years of age, the requirements of the regulations concerning the use of juveniles have been satisfied; these rules concern parental consent, meetings, risk assessments and the duration of the authorisation. The authorisation of such persons to act as a CHIS must come from the chief executive.
  • Where the application is for the renewal of a CHIS authorisation, a review has been carried out by the local authority and the magistrate has considered the results of the review.

Similarly, where an authority wishes to access communications data about an individual from any communications service provider, approval will be required from the Court.

The new provisions make it clear that the authorising officer is not required to apply to the Court in person and there is no need to give notice to either the subject of the authorisation or their legal representatives.

Finally, where local authorities wish to use directed surveillance, this is to be confined to cases where the offence under investigation carries a custodial sentence of six months or more (except in the case of underage sales of alcohol and tobacco).