ASSAP PROFESSIONAL CODE OF ETHICS
Applicability Note: This code applies to members of ASSAP that choose to join the National Register of Professional Investigators. Members of the NRPI should follow the code in all cases, regardless of whether they are ASSAP cases, except where they opt out of NRPI rules for any case. In such cases the opting out should be made clear to clients and in any publicity and subsequent reports. It is accepted that members of the NRPI may be bound by overriding Codes of Ethics by professional bodies, such as the British Psychological Society or those of individual University departments.
INTRODUCTION TO THE CODE OF ETHICS
The investigation of anomalous phenomena is an unregulated field that has an inconsistent approach to ethics. Investigators are capable of being either professional or amateur in their approach to cases.
ASSAP is a Learned Society and Professional Body for investigators of anomalous phenomena. The National Register of Professional Investigators and the Code of Ethics at its core provides an ethical benchmark for those who join it.
The Code of Ethics is designed to ensure a minimal ethical standard amongst investigators in order to make sure that clients are not harmed by the activities of investigators.
The NRPI is not designed to provide a ‘gold standard’ for rational and ethical investigators, separate facilities are available for this purpose, but is designed to be accessible to all investigators and raise the ethical standard of the field of investigation.
As such the code is split into two parts. Both parts apply to vulnerable cases as these involve clients needing the highest ethical protection. However in cases where venues are hired for research, where there is less chance of possible harm, the investigator is under the duty of care of the venue so the ethical requirements are lower but still present.
The new code was subject to a consultation exercise both before and after draft publication. The code will be reviewed within its first year of publication.
ASSAP has provided an Ethical Toolkit for members of the NRPI so they can use sample forms and paperwork to fulfil ethical compliance without reinventing the wheel.
We hope you find this code useful and we earnestly hope it will help to raise the ethical standard of our field.
HOW TO USE THE CODE OF ETHICS
The level of ethics that applies to a particular case will dictate which part of the Code of Ethics is relevant.
The use of this code applies to any cases an investigator choosing to join the National Register of Professional Investigators undertakes, regardless of where the case came from. If investigators have to opt-out of the code for any specific case this should be made clear to the client and their links to the NRPI should not be promoted.
There are broadly four types of case:
1) Statutorily vulnerable cases. These include cases where the client is under 18, is frail due to old age, has mental health issues or learning disabilities or where the client had a relevant bereavement within twelve months of making contact. Clients should also be considered temporary incapable of providing informed consent when they are under the influence of alcohol and/drugs.
It is not appropriate to have contact with statutorily vulnerable clients unless working with their local authority approved care providers. If approached by such clients they should be sign-posted to responsible local authorities.
2) Non-statutorily vulnerable (hereafter known as ‘vulnerable’) cases. These are cases where investigation is of an individual’s private home or where the client is emotionally invested in the case.
In such cases use both Part 1 and Part 2 of the Code of Ethics.
3) Non-vulnerable cases. These are cases where the client is not emotionally invested in the case; they may or may not be interested in the case. This may include where a venue is hired for an investigation or a venue well-accustomed to investigators.
In such cases use Part 1 of the Code of Ethics.
4) Cases with no client. These are often cases that involve a geographic area, outdoors location, ruin or topographical feature.
In such cases use Part 1 of the Code of Ethics.
The investigator should make an assessment of which category a case falls into before proceeding. Investigators should make every effort to establish if a client is statutorily vulnerable before deciding whether to take on the case. Where a client’s vulnerability is withheld from the investigator the investigator should withdraw and make an appropriate referral when they discover the client vulnerability.
There will be occasions where it is unclear whether the client is vulnerable or non-vulnerable. For example a pub that runs related events but where the client lives in the pub might be non-vulnerable, as might a castle that hires itself to investigators but the caretaker lives on site. Conversely a public building that has never been investigated where the client is concerned about the case may be a vulnerable case. The term ‘client’ should also extend to any persons affected by an investigation. For example one individual in a private home may not be statutorily vulnerable but another person in the house might be. A disinterested building owner may not be vulnerable but their staff affected by a haunting may be, in which case rules for vulnerable clients should apply.
There will often be grey areas where an investigator needs to make a judgement. For example Freedom to Withdraw may or may not apply where the investigator is hiring a venue under a contractual arrangement. In such cases that contract should be consulted. In general if a hired venue wishes investigators it is wise to comply with the instruction but to refer to the hiring contract for any form of redress.
Public events are classified as ‘non-vulnerable’ (a public event would never take place in a vulnerable environment). This Code of Ethics can help guide conduct during public events, but some elements of such events fall outside the scope of this code. For example people organising public events have a duty of care and statutory consumer responsibilities to members of the public which are not covered in this code.
It is incumbent on the investigator to establish what category a case falls into, and apply the relevant level of ethics, at the earliest opportunity.
PART ONE – ETHICS IN ALL CASES
This section applies to ALL cases undertaken as a member of the National Register of Professional Investigators.
1.0 CLIENT PROTECTION
TREATMENT OF CLIENTS
All clients are to be treated in a respectful manner at all times. Consideration should be shown if the client has cultural and religious/beliefs or customs, however, the investigator is encouraged to remain impartial.
1) USE OF LANGUAGE
It is advised that when communicating with a client via email, phone or in person, creating an even powered relationship between the investigator and the Client is paramount. Please ensure that you use appropriate language which will not offend or confuse the client. Always provide explanations for any expressions or vocabulary that is not understood and avoid the use of jargon where possible.
2) DATA PROTECTION AND PRIVACY
Securing any personal data pertaining to the client is vital and assurances must be made by the investigator that any data relating to the client and the case complies with the Data Protection Act (1998). Investigators should ensure there is no way information can be divulged to a third party without consent. Third parties may include newspapers, TV production companies, radio, social network groups, et cetera.
ASSAP holds public liability and professional indemnity insurance that covers all members of the National Register of Professional Investigators following this Code of Ethics.
4) INFORMED CONSENT
You should gain informed, written consent from your client before commencing a case. Informed consent means the client should know exactly what working with the investigator involves, including details of methods employed. Permission should also be explicitly obtained for use of filming or audio recording.
Investigators should to take care to explain the purpose of the investigation, including its scientific basis and ensure the client knows that a resolution of any kind is not guaranteed.
In cases with no clients – or outdoors locations – investigators should only proceed with the permission of the owner or relevant authority. Any outdoors location should be approached as either owned privately or in the care of a relevant authority. Even locations considered to be to be ‘open access’ to the public require permission for fieldwork. Investigators should consider the possible impact of ‘cold calling’ landowners, or indeed any building owner, as they may be unaware of alleged haunting reports of a site or building.
The document and the consent process should cover:
. Possible benefits and risks of your investigation.
. Privacy and data protection.
. Insurance indemnity arrangements.
. What is expected of the client.
. Both parties’ understanding of the brief and relevant facts associated with the case.
. How and with what frequency information is provided to the client throughout the research process.
. Assurance that the client can withdraw at any time.
. The procedure for re-consenting if longitudinal research is involved.
6) DECEPTION AS AN INVESTIGATIVE TOOL
The default position is not to deceive clients or colleagues, and deception should never be used in vulnerable cases. However, if research questions call for deception in non-vulnerable cases, the investigator must consider: a) the potential harm, b) the benefits to the research, and c) the quality of the research. Deception is never appropriate when working with vulnerable clients. In other cases proposed deception should be considered by a separate body. ASSAP intends to form an Ethics Panel that would be available to consider such matters on request. Any agreed deception should always be followed by a full debrief where its use is justified and explained.
The importance of protecting personal details
1) DEFINING WHAT IS CONFIDENTIAL DATA
This type of data refers to private information, evidence gathered on investigations or organisational information that has been recorded by the investigator and used to describe a person, details of an event or a location.. Any unauthorised access to this data could result in a considerable incursion of privacy and would have an unfavourable impact on our reputation. Several privacy laws protect such data. Any breach in confidential data should be reported to the NIC (National Investigations Committee) immediately.
2) WHEN EXCLUSIONS APPLY
Permissible disclosure of confidential data can arise in certain instances such as an investigator discovering that an illegal act or crime has taken place and if harm, abuse, or threat of harm has been exposed whilst a case is in progress. In such cases disclosure may be permitted if a referral needs to be made to an outside agency such as the police, council, mental health team, Approved Social Worker, etc. In such cases an investigator has a duty of care and should not delay in alerting the relevant authorities. Investigators should co-operate with Police or relevant authority as required.
3) THE DATA PROTECTION ACT 1998
Any organisation or individual gathering information about individuals and is obliged to protect data under this statutory law. It deals with how to process the data in a fair and lawful way, how it should be obtained, the importance of accuracy, the rights of individuals, organisations and businesses, effective storage of the data, the movement of such data and exemptions. For more information on this act please visit this website: www.ico.gov.uk
4) WRITTEN AGREEMENTS
Both parties should sign a tailored written agreement covering confidentiality. The default position should be confidentiality of the case details and anonymity of both client and individual investigators. Clients can waive the right to confidentiality and anonymity where they specifically agree and where the investigator feels this is in the interests of the general research community and where it is not against the interests of the client.
5) TYPES OF PERMISSIBLE DISCLOSURE
This refers to information that is required by law or court order. It may consist of information that is both tangible and intangible that specifically relates to the client or the case.
6) AVOIDING LEGALESE IN CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENTS
To avoid a situation in which a client is perplexed or intimidated by an agreement that you give them, we suggest that you refrain from using overly formal legal jargon in your content. This can also impede comprehension of the document. Please use a concise and clear writing style to avoid any problems.
7) EXTENDING CONFIDENTIALITY TO THE CLIENT
It is recommended that you advise your client to refrain from discussing the details of the case to third parties such as the press except where otherwise agreed. This is to protect your reputation as an investigator, and that of your colleagues who may not consent to having their details shared with the media. Clients may also not be aware of the full potential implications of approaching the media. Even local press articles can be picked up by national and international media with results that are more intrusive than the client may have originally anticipated.
8) DATA BEING MADE AVAILABLE TO THE CLIENT
If the client asks to view the records of an investigation that involves them, you are legally obliged to make these available to the client.
9) WORKING WITH THE MEDIA AND RELEASE FORMS
When working with the media, we encourage that you present a rational picture to the world. Likewise, if reports are made available on websites, to clients or to anyone else, reports should be scientific and rational to safeguard the reputation of the field. If in doubt about involving the media, it is better to not involve them due to the risk of inaccurate reporting, sensationalism and the possibility of causing distress. Always avoid sensational, libellous or derogatory remarks. If a client has consented to involve the media it is good practice to ensure they are kept abreast of the interest of any specific media.
10) OFFERING CENSORSHIP IN PHOTOGRAPHS
In the event of publicising a case in the mass media (including internet), you should censor any visual data (such as photographs or video) to ensure the agreed level of confidentiality and anonymity for the client.
11) INFORMATION FORMATS
Whichever format(s) you choose to work with, take into consideration the needs of the client. You are welcome to use the ASSAP report template, which represents good practice in presenting information to the client.
3.0 INVESTIGATORS’ PROTECTION
1) RISK ASSESSMENT
Part of your initial evaluation should be to carry out a risk assessment of the property that you are investigating in order to identify areas or objects that could prove to be harmful to you or others.
2) MEDICAL ISSUES
Lead investigators should be aware of any medical issues relating to other investigators and be able to respond to emergencies.
3) LONE WORKING
It is not advisable that you attend a case alone. Ideally you should attend with another investigator, ideally of the opposite sex. More often than not you will be walking into a stranger’s home or a venue that has not been previously vetted. However, if you find yourself working under these circumstances unavoidably, please ensure that you give a colleague, bound by the same confidentiality, the details of where and when you intend to carry out your investigation.
4) EFFECTIVE BRIEFING
All investigators should be fully briefed by the lead investigator prior to the initiation of an investigation. Investigators should understand what is expected of them and understand all methods used.
5) EFFECTIVE DEBRIEFING
All investigators must allow time at the end of an investigation for a debriefing session; this gives each member the opportunity to discuss any problems or worries that surfaced during the investigation. It also helps to ensure that each colleague leaves the site in the same state in which they arrived.
6) ANONYMITY IN REPORTS
All details contained within your reports should be held privately unless specifically decided otherwise. Colleagues must be informed of confidentiality policies that are in place. Names of colleagues and clients should be anonymised as well as the names of locations, except where agreed otherwise.
7) WHISTLE BLOWING
From time to time you may encounter investigators who have acted inappropriately. For example, they may have used practices that we have not endorsed and that have caused distress to the client. An investigator may have been pressured or bullied into doing something that they are not comfortable with. If you observe any unethical behaviour, it is your responsibility to confront the investigator involved, and to remove yourself from the unethical situation. If the behaviour is on the part of a member of the NRPI, you should inform ASSAP if it is not resolved. ASSAP offers anonymity to all whistleblowers. Complaints, whether from investigators, clients or members of the public, will be dealt with through ASSAP’s internal procedures.
8) PROTECTION OF THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY
A conscientious and trustworthy research group should always present their conclusions in a rational and logical manner. If this is not adhered to, it may impair the reputation of the field and research may suffer as a result of this. If you present your findings/reports on the internet you are rightly open to criticism, scrutiny and opposing opinions. Protect yourself and your colleagues by using a rational and prudent approach at all times.
9) INVESTIGATORS AND THEIR RIGHTS TO WITHDRAW
It is perfectly acceptable for investigators to withdraw from a case if they feel that they can no longer continue. Investigator briefings should include details of right to withdraw.
4.0 THE RIGHT TO WITHDRAW
Providing assurances to the client about their rights
1) CLIENT REQUESTS WITHDRAWAL FROM A CASE
The Client can request a case ceases with immediate effect. This can either be accepted verbally or in writing. They are not required to offer an explanation. In the event of this happening, please treat their decision with respect and please do not make any attempt to approach them or try to persuade them to let you carry on with your investigation at a later date. The right to withdraw should be set out in the signed pre-investigation agreement and should be explained to the client prior to the commencement of the investigation. Discontinuing participation should not result in any penalty.
2) REQUESTS FOR DESTRUCTION OF RECORDS
In the event of the Client withdrawing from a case, you may wish to ask them whether or not they wish for the case records to be destroyed. Please honour any request that is made for the destruction of notes, reports, etc. that you may have in your possession. After you have complied with their request, please contact them in writing stating that it has been carried out. By doing this you have provided an assurance that will hopefully prevent anxiety or stress relating to data about the case.
3) PROXY AGREEMENT
A proxy is a person who can give consent on behalf of someone else who is unable to do so for legal or other reasons (e.g. status as a minor or lack of capacity to understand what is being presented to them). We do not recommend working with clients for whom you would need a proxy agreement in order to proceed with a case
5.0 IF THINGS GO WRONG
Should any problems arise when following this Code of Ethics it is recommended you contact ASSAP for guidance.
Any complaints arising from investigators using the Code of Ethics should be referred to ASSAP. Clients should be made aware that this source of redress is available. Investigators, either involved in not involved with a particular case or group or investigator, are encouraged to challenge breaches of ethics; however the complaints procedure is primarily for use by clients rather than investigators.
PART TWO – ETHICS IN VULNERABLE CASES
6.0 ADDITIONAL CLIENT PROTECTION
The safeguarding of clients, use of terminology and importance of methodology
1) CRIMINAL RECORD BUREAU (CRB) CHECKS
Especially when working with vulnerable clients it is vital that investigators are background checked. Part of the process of becoming a member of the
NRPI will involve a CRB check (available through ASSAP) which will provide the NIC with details of convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands which are recorded in central records. This also provides reassurance to the client.
2) THE USE OF EQUIPMENT AND PSEUDO-SCIENCE
In vulnerable cases the use of equipment to test unscientific theories has the potential to cause harm. When dealing with vulnerable clients investigators should always err on the side of caution and never use equipment to test unscientific theories.
3) THE USE OF SPIRITUAL METHODS
Likewise the use of any spiritual methods is potentially distressing to vulnerable clients and should not be used in these circumstances.
4) PRESENTATION OF RESULTS
It is important to present the findings and conclusions of your case to the client in a presentable format that is comprehensible to them, explaining terminology as needed. Avoid using unhelpful assumptions, which could be misinterpreted. When going through your report with the client, ensure that this does not turn into a lecture. Instead, you should allow the client to ask questions. Do not always assume understanding; clearly explain concepts, techniques and operational issues where necessary. When explaining your conclusions, be sure to stick to the evidence and be ready to explain the rationale behind these conclusions. Always respect clients opinions, even when they disagree with your own.
5) COMPLEX (PERSONAL) RELATIONSHIPS
If there is an existing personal or business relationship between an investigator and a potential client, please carefully consider issues of impartiality and sensitivity before accepting the case. It is not appropriate to pursue a new close personal relationship with a client while a case is underway. If a close relationship does develop during a case, we recommend that you pass the case on to a colleague. Similarly any contractual relationships with vulnerable clients should be avoided.
Bereaved clients are automatically vulnerable. If a client has suffered a relevant bereavement within six months of making contact the case should not be accepted except in exceptional circumstances.
7) WORKING WITH CHILDREN
We recommend you do not come into contact with minors (under the age of 18) during a case as they are classed as statutorily vulnerable, except in exceptional circumstances. For protection of client and all concerned no investigator should be in the presence of a minor unless: a) they are CRB checked, b) another CRB checked investigator is present and c) a parent or guardian is present.
8) PUTTING RESEARCH SECOND
When working with vulnerable clients the investigator’s primary concern should be reassuring that client. Research aims should be secondary to this aim. Where a client becomes distressed it is important that any investigation cease and the investigator sign-posts the client to the relevant authorities.
9) THE DANGERS OF HISTORY ASSOCIATION
We recommend that you do not research the history of a property as part working with a vulnerable client. There is no proven association between historical events and anomalous activity, and as all data pertaining to a case must be shared with a client, you may unintentionally cause distress if you uncover historical information of which the client was previously unaware. There are occasions were historical research can be useful and ethical, or example when the geology of a site if relevant.
10) LIMITATIONS OF INVESTIGATOR TRAINING
If investigators encounter a situation they are not prepared to deal with – for example, clients with mental health needs or other complex issues – contact your local authority for a list of services that are able to offer support and advice for individuals with social needs or help with certain disorders. Only investigators with training and experience should undertake a vulnerable case. Investigators should strongly consider only having in person with vulnerable clients in the presence of a trained professional, for example counsellor, psychologist, social worker or interviewing professional. As little formal training is available in this field an investigator should make a reasonable judgement as to their level of skill and experience.
11) THE USE OF PSEUDONYMS
It is strongly advised that when writing a report, the author should use a dissimilar name that differs to the client’s original name, in order to screen their real identity. This assures protection to the client. The same can apply to the investigators too if they prefer anonymity. It is also important not to inadvertently disclose the identity of a particular person or place through publication of general identifying details.
It is ethically important that a client receives a debriefing and full report of the case without unavoidable delay, and should be made aware of contact details for post-case support.