Yes, the evidence gathered by private investigators is usually admissible in a court of law. Whether the evidence is admitted is up to the judge. Still, good PIs will ensure that their reports are of court-admissible standard.
We’ll take you through some of the things we do to keep our reports up to standard. We’ll also tell you about a couple of caveats to admissibility.
Gathering Information Legally
We’ll start with perhaps the most obvious way to keep evidence court-admissible. If you break the law to collect evidence, then it won’t be admitted in court. Private investigators have to obey the same laws as everyone else. This means that the judge will reject any evidence obtained through trespassing, hacking, intimidation, or other illegal methods. In addition to this, any investigator trying to present this evidence could face legal charges themselves.
After Parliament brought the Investigatory Powers Act (2016) into law, how we access internet data changed. Although responsible data handling has always been a priority, the act tightened the restrictions. Irresponsible data handling became a crime, limiting the scope.
Clarity and Conciseness
When we compile the evidence gathered, we must ensure the final report is clear, unambiguous, and easy to understand. A judge won’t accept a report that is open to a broad range of interpretations. Because of this, we have to use precise, detached language and lay the documents out clearly.
Evidence doesn’t have to be irrefutable to be admitted in court, but improving its quality will certainly help. To do this, we make sure that our photo and video evidence is time-and-date stamped. This helps limit the scope of interpretation and provide more transparent information for the court to use.
Additionally, footage needs to clear and demonstrate what is going on. For example, in personal injury surveillance, a subject carrying a box proves nothing. You can’t verify the extent of injuries sustained if the footage doesn’t clearly show what’s in the box.
A Note About Polygraph Tests
In the United Kingdom, polygraph test results aren’t usually admissible in court. They will never be accepted as evidence in a criminal trial, and their use in civil proceedings is limited.
The legal systems in some countries do permit the use of lie detector results in court. Still, most of the time, these tests have to be administered by law enforcement. In this way, polygraph reports are our exception to our usual standard.
Common Reports Used in Court
The most common reason people hire a private investigator for court evidence is in child custody cases. In these civil proceedings, each side needs to make the case that their child is best off in their care. A professional private investigator will conduct surveillance to determine what happens when the child is in the other person’s care.