Law Commission Consultation on Search Warrants in an Electronic Age

The Law Commission is to consult on proposals for modernising the law on search warrants and has highlighted key issues concerning electronic information

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 September.

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.’


Published: 2018-06-06T14:30:00


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