Current project status
The current status of this project is: Analysis of responses.
List of project stages:
- Analysis of responses
- Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
- Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
- Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
- Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
- Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations
We are reviewing the law governing search warrants. Our public consultation closed on 5 September 2018. We are currently analysing consultation responses. We are aiming to publish our final report, with recommendations for reform, in the Autumn of 2020.
The current law
A search warrant is a written authorisation that allows an investigator to enter premises to search for material or individuals. Search warrants are usually issued by a court application by a police officer or other investigator. Most search warrants authorise the investigator to seize and retain relevant material found during the search.
There over 175 different powers to issue search warrants. Some, like the general power under section 8 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, are used to look for evidence of a criminal offence. Some more specific powers allow the searcher to remove stolen goods, drugs, firearms or other dangerous materials or to rescue people or animals in danger or distress. Other powers relate to complex financial or specialised investigations.
Problems with the law
We have identified a number of problems with the current law:
- the sheer number of provisions, coupled with their complexity, leads to a confusing legislative landscape;
- there is inconsistency across search warrant provisions and in the procedure for obtaining a search warrant. Importantly, there is inconsistency in the applicability of statutory safeguards and the protection afforded to particular categories of material;
- a large proportion of the legislation, in particular the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, predates the advent of electronic material and risks failing to deal with emerging digital technology and the forms in which criminal activity now takes place; and
- the number of appeals generated by search warrants legislation, and the legal fees incurred, creates excessive cost for all parties.
The Home Office invited the Law Commission to conduct a review to identify and address pressing problems with the law governing search warrants and to produce reform which will clarify and rationalise the law.
We invited comments on our proposals to:
- simplify the law and procedure governing search warrants by rendering it more rational and accessible at all stages of the search warrant process;
- make the law fairer by extending protections, improving judicial scrutiny and making the law more transparent;
- modernise the law to ensure that it reflects the changing nature of investigations and is equipped to deal with current technology; and
- make the law more cost-effective by introducing a streamlined way to obtain a search warrant and a new procedure to challenge and correct procedural deficiencies.
Get in contact
If you have any questions, you can get in touch by email: email@example.com
Area of law
Professor Penney Lewis