SIA granted power to prosecute security firms in UK

The watchdog for the private security industry has been given the all-clear by the High Court to launch criminal prosecutions as part of its supervisory role.

The Security Industry Authority (SIA) was set up to license, monitor and inspect those who provide a whole range of security services, including bouncers and wheel-clampers.

Two companies, Securiplan Plc and Sabrewatch Ltd, which provide security services to well-known companies, challenged the SIA's legal right to prosecute after they came under investigation.

Both companies and their directors or managers are facing allegations that they deployed numerous security staff who were ``unlicensed security operatives''.

Last March both companies argued at Southwark Crown Court that the SIA had no statutory power or authority to launch prosecutions.

Judge Rivlin QC rejected the argument, and the companies appealed to the High Court in London.

Today Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Mr Justice Blake gave their reasons for holding that the SIA did have powers to prosecute under its watchdog role.

Lord Justice Kay said the SIA was set up under the 2001 Private Security Act and empowered to do ``anything that it considers is calculated to facilitate, or is incidental or conducive to, the carrying out of its functions.''

The judge said the functions listed under the 2001 Act, including licensing, did not include an ``express reference'' to prosecutions.

But he added prosecution ``was conducive to the carrying out of the licensing functions because fear of prosecution will deter unlicensed activity''.

The judge said he was unpersuaded that, when alleged regulatory offences did occur, the SIA had to outsource prosecutions to an ``overstretched'' police force and Crown Prosecution Service.

Mr Justice Blake agreed.

Later, SIA deputy chief executive Andy Drane said: ``I am pleased that this judgment has confirmed our understanding.

``As we have always said, prosecution is not our preferred option but we will initiate proceedings when we think it is appropriate to do so.

``Our normal compliance approach, which falls short of going to the courts, is made more effective by the threat and reality of prosecution.''

The GMB, which represents thousands of security industry workers, also welcomed today's High Court decision.

The union's national secretary, Gary Smith, congratulated the SIA ``on guarding hard-won legislation''.

He said: ``It makes the industry, and especially the smaller security companies, accountable under law.

``It's often the smaller firms that drive down terms and conditions across the industry because of the way they do business.''