Has your relationship been under surveillance?

posted: 21st March 2017

At PMC Family Law we assist people whose relationship or marriage has is broken down; guiding them through the divorce process. Looking back at a failed relationship can be an incredibly painful experience in which many people feel under immense scrutiny. But how would you feel if you found out your relationship had, quite literally, been under surveillance?

Our team of experienced Liverpool based family law solicitors are noticing an increasing number of cases whereby ex-spouses / partners are discovering they have been bugged in one form or another. This spying technology, it appears, is being used to allay fears of infidelity, catch partners out when they are up to no good as well as being used as a form of harassment.

Common types of surveillance used by individuals in relationships include:

  • CCTV: if installing cameras you must ensure that there are clear signs stating that CCTV is in operation. The footage must only be used for the purpose it is taken (e.g. security purposes). It should also be kept safe (i.e. not distributed to third parties) and should only be kept only for the time frame required.
  • Vehicle trackers: if considering a vehicle tracker you must ask yourself, is the use of such a device reasonable and proportionate? For example, you can use these on your own vehicle but not on someone else’s.
  • Tracking people: this is very intrusive and contravenes laws on privacy and Human Rights; this could also be deemed harassment. Tracking your partner is a breach of their privacy if they do not consent to the same.
  • Listening and recording devices: again, you must consider whether use of such devices reasonable. These should only be used for legitimate security purposes as there is a reasonable expectation of privacy an individual would expect to have within their own home.
  • Phone monitoring: much like listening and recording devices you must ask yourself; is this reasonable and does the other party know about this and provide their consent?
  • Computer monitoring and forensics – as in the case of vehicle trackers you must be the owner of the computer and notify any individuals using the same.

So where does the law stand on individuals monitoring their partner or ex-partner’s activity? The law governing individuals using surveillance equipment to monitor others is primarily covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).

But ultimately, if you find hidden cameras in your home, the likelihood is that they are being used for illegitimate and illegal reasons. It is illegal to record someone without their consent. If you believe that CCTV is being used as a form of harassment you must notify the police immediately. It is illegal.

The Human Rights Act incorporates the basic rights afforded to us under the European Convention of Human Rights. If you discover you are under surveillance this may well be breaching your right to ‘respect for private and family life’ (outlined in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act).

Primarily under the Human Rights Act the provisions of Article 8 were only enforced against public bodies, however the UK court have sought to expand this and Article 8 can be applied to private bodies and individuals. Privacy has not been strictly defined and as such the Judge will decide a case on its merits.

A case was heard in Leeds Crown Court whereby a security guard bugged his estranged wife’s home. He and his wife split up following an 18 year marriage and Mr L began harassing his wife – leaving her abusive voicemails, ordering her not to go on any dating websites and planting a listening device in the electronic socket of their son’s bedroom. Mr L pleaded guilty to putting a person in fear of violence or harassment and was sentenced to a 4 month prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, ordered to participate in a 20-day activity programme and made subject of an electronically monitored curfew for 12 weeks. Recorder Simpson stated the use of the bugging device was a serious feature in the case and it was a gross intrusion of privacy, given that Mr L had listened to that information.”

If your relationship is coming to an end and you believe your spouse or partner is ‘spying’ on you then do not hesitate to get in contact with us for your free initial consultation on 0151 375 9968. We specialise in all areas of family law to include divorce, ending a relationship, pre-nuptial agreements and child related matters.

By: Lindsey Potter - Paralegal