Hampshire reviews powers to beat Scams, Fakes and Underage Sales
Monday, 01 October 2012
Legal powers used to protect residents against serious crime such as scams, rogue traders, the sale of alcohol and cigarettes to minors, and fake goods are set to come under review as part of annual checks by Hampshire County Council.
Every year the Government requires councils to review how they use the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and at his Decision Day meeting on 5 October, County Council Leader, Councillor Ken Thornber will verify Hampshire's policy.
In addition, authorisation will be sought for Trading Standards officers to be able to appear in court on behalf of Hampshire County Council in connection with legal proceedings. From November this year the use of these surveillance powers will have to be approved by a Magistrate.
The County Council already operates a strict policy that ensures that only authorised surveillance takes place in accordance with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.. Authorisations under RIPA almost exclusively relate to work carried out by officers of the Council's Trading Standards Service.
Trading Standards use the powers available to them for the prevention and detection of crime and when the information they need is essential in gathering evidence of offences which are detrimental to consumers and Hampshire businesses. The majority of these cases relate to the sale of fake and counterfeit goods that infringe trade mark legislation and in response to consumer complaints. Such sales are made from places like open air markets, car boot sales and over the internet. Before large seizures can go ahead, officers need to make undercover enquiries to find out how the businesses are operating and where the fakes are being stored. In some other cases, RIPA has also been used by Trading Standards Animal Health officers to monitor adherence to court orders that relate to convictions for animal cruelty charges.
The most recent regular external inspections by the Chief Surveillance Commissioner and the Interception of Communication Commissioner, which took place at the end of last year, commended the County Council's arrangements and control measures. The inspectors noted how the County Council demonstrated a desire to use the powers sparingly, yet to good effect for residents. In addition, all acquisition of communication data was stated as being lawful and for the proper purpose.
Councillor Thornber said:
"Hampshire County Council is committed to putting local people first and will use every possible measure to catch the rogue traders, doorstep criminals and scam artists who cheat the taxpayer or prey on elderly or vulnerable residents.
"Our Trading Standards Officers welcome this extra control on the Council's already careful approach to the use of RIPA powers."