Search Warrants

Current project status

  • 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 launched our public consultation on reforming the law of search warrants on 5 June 2018. The consultation period will run until 5 September 2018.

Download the consultation paper

Download the summary

Read the news story

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.

Our project

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 invite 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.

How to respond

By email: search_warrants@lawcommission.gov.uk

By post: Criminal Team, 1st Floor, Tower, Post Point 1.54, 52 Queen Anne’s Gate, London SW1H 9AG (access via 102 Petty France)

If you send your comments by post, it would be helpful if, whenever possible, you could also send them electronically.

Respond by the 5 September to have your say.

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law

Commissioner

Professor David Ormerod QC