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Law Commission recommends search warrant modernisation

Law Commission recommends search warrant modernisation

At Murria, we have an exceptional track record when it comes to challenging search warrants and taking legal action for unlawful searches and seizure of property by the Police and other law enforcement agencies such as HMRC and UK Border Agency. The Law Commission has recently called for the modernisation of search warrants, suggesting that extra protections should be put in place in order to protect the rights of individuals. Search warrants are issued by judges in private and enable investigators to gain access to homes and business premises to search for and seize material. The Law Commission regards the existing system as overly-complicated and is concerned that some applications are not being properly scrutinised or prepared correctly. There are also concerns that search warrants are not reflective of the modern world, with digital sources and the internet also playing a significant role in gathering evidence.

“Necessary and appropriate”

Law Commissioner Professor David Ormerod QC said the law needed to “strike a balance” between individuals’ rights and the state’s powers, ensuring searches were limited to actions that were “necessary and appropriate”. There are currently more than 175 statutory powers for issuing warrants, with differences in who can apply for and execute warrants, what powers are available and under which conditions searches can be conducted.

Simplifying the process

This complexity has caused problems for investigators, judges, magistrates and occupiers. Investigators have experienced difficulty in deciding which search warrant is required, with many occupiers being unclear about their rights and when warrants can be challenged. The uncertainty and confusion around warrants has resulted in many high-profile errors, and there have been more than 50 judicial reviews related to search warrants and how searches are conducted since 2010, costing public bodies millions of pounds in legal fees and damages.

Improved statistical monitoring

The proposals recommend that confidential journalistic material and medical records should be made exempt from searches and that statistics to monitor how search warrants are used are recorded and published. Safeguards could be introduced to ensure electronic devices are examined and returned to their owners quickly, with a new procedure introduced to challenge defective warrants. This procedure could reduce the costs and delay associated with judicial reviews. It’s also recommended that guidance and forms are clarified and that powers are made more consistent so investigators have a better idea of their powers and when they can be used. Agencies with enforcement powers would be able to apply for warrants without going through the police, with changes being made to large-scale investigations so privileged material can be identified and segregated more effectively. This would prevent the law being used to delay legal procedures.

Amendments for the digital age

There is a great deal of concern about how electronic information is treated by the law, especially now that more data than ever is being stored on digital devices, with much material being stored in overseas locations. The Commission aims to introduce a statutory framework that would be better aligned with the digital age. It is hoped that the framework will safeguard privacy rights whilst enhancing the efficiency of cybercrime investigations. The consultation will continue until 5th September 2018.

Contact Murria

This is a very specialist area of law where experience counts. Searches and seizures usually take place at the outset of a complex investigation. Before taking action one has to look at the bigger picture. If you are seeking advice related to wrongful arrests or false imprisonment, at Murria Solicitors, we are passionate about providing the right legal representation and support that benefits you. . To get in touch with us today, call 0333 800 0033 or send an e-mail to law@murria.co.uk.