A judge has ruled that evidence a council obtained by hiring a private investigator to carry out covert surveillance on two parents is admissible to court.
His Honour Judge Moradifar ruled the evidence was relevant and admissible to a family court case. However, he said allegations from the parents that the council’s use of the surveillance was unlawful and breached their human rights had to be brought as a separate claim and considered in their own right.
The council, which is not named in the ruling, asked to use the evidence as part of its argument in care proceedings that the parents were still in a relationship, despite saying they were not. The surveillance showed the father staying for a short period of time in the mother’s house, although the council acknowledged it did not prove the mother was in at the time.
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The parents argued that the council’s use of the investigator was “misjudged and deeply unfortunate” and that the surveillance was not fair, reasonable or proportionate.
They claimed that the council had failed to comply with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and had breached their rights to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The judge said these allegations had to be made through a separate court application and it would be “entirely inappropriate” for him to pass judgement on the local authority’s actions in this regard. He said the question of whether the evidence was admissible or not should be treated distinctly.
He said: “The factual matters that the local authority sought to prove included an allegation that the parents remain in a relationship.
“Therefore on a cursory analysis of the facts that remained in issue and required the court’s determination, it is clear that the surveillance evidence was relevant to this allegation. Indeed no party has sought to submit that it was not.”
In a nine-point summary of his decision, the judge said relevance and admissibility of evidence were separate concepts and only relevant evidence is admitted.
He said any “illegally obtained evidence” is not automatically barred from being admitted, but added: “If the court gives permission for illegally obtained evidence to be adduced, it will not absolve a public authority or body from its responsibility for any lack of compliance with the relevant statutory provisions and any sanctions that may follow.”