Law Commission Consultation on Search Warrants in an Electronic Age

June 5, 2018

In December, the Home Office asked the Law Commission to
identify and address problems with the law governing search warrants and to
produce reforms which will clarify and rationalise the law. Proposals have now
been published for consultation
. The consultation period ends on 5

Of particular interest to SCL members are the proposals
concerning electronic information where the Law Commission identifies key
concerns over:

  • the enormous volumes of electronic information that can now
    be stored on devices
  • the location of the material, which may be stored remotely
    abroad albeit accessible from the premises.

The Law Commission has examined the present state of the law
and asks a series of questions to assess whether law enforcement agencies have
the necessary powers to search for and seize electronic evidence. The
Commission‘s objective is to ensure a statutory framework, reflecting the
reality and complexities of the digital age, that both facilitates the
investigation of cybercrime and safeguards individual privacy rights.

Law Commissioner Professor David Ormerod QC said:

‘Search warrants serve an important purpose and are vital to
successful criminal investigations. But the law has to strike a balance between
the powers of the state and the rights of individuals. Our proposals would
simplify the law and modernise the powers needed by law enforcement to
investigate serious crime. But, crucially, alongside that, they would extend
protections so that people know that a search under a warrant is limited to
what is necessary and proportionate.’

Solicitor Millie Graham Wood, from the human rights charity
Privacy International, said:

‘The Law Commission consultation, and specifically its
proposals in relation to police powers to search or copy data from smartphones
and computers, are timely in light of Privacy International’s recent report
entitled Digital Stop and search: how the
UK police can secretly download everything from your mobile phone