Attorney General v Danhai Williams and others: PC 12 May 1997

(Jamaica) Customs investigating officers on attended the appellant’s premises in the course of an investigation of fraudulent importation. The officers were met by a hostile crowd, and the claimant did not attend for interview as invited. A search warrant was obtained and executed. The claimants said the warrant was unconstitutional and unlawful and sought return of documents taken. They said that the court had acted on the basis that the justice issuing the warrant could rely on the officer being satisfied of the matters alleged without making his own judgement.
Held: An officer making an application owed a duty of openness. His disclosures to the magistrate were in confidence, though there were matters which a justice need not be made aware of.
‘Their Lordships do not underestimate the difficulty and delicacy of the task which is put upon Justices and other judicial officers to whom application is made for search warrants. The applicant is generally a police or other law enforcement officer who knows far more than the Justice about the investigation. The application is made ex parte; there is naturally a predisposition upon the part of the Justice to be helpful to the officer who is present and assures him that a search is necessary. The officer may be known to the Justice, who may have learnt to trust his judgment and veracity. Their Lordships do not suggest that this is something which should be ignored. On the other hand, the citizen whose rights the Justice is constitutionally required to protect is absent and seldom depicted in the most favourable light. Nevertheless, if the constitutional safeguards are to have any meaning, it is essential for the Justice conscientiously to ask himself whether on the information given to him upon oath (in the case of section 203, either orally or in writing) he is satisfied that the officer’s suspicion is based upon reasonable cause.’
‘Although the courts may sometimes feel frustrated by their inability to go behind the curtain of the recital that the justice was duly satisfied and to examine the substance of whether reasonable grounds for suspicion existed (a frustration articulated by Lord Scarman in R v Inland Revenue Comrs, Ex p Rossminster Ltd [1980] AC 952, 1022) their Lordships think that it would be wrong to try to compensate by creating formal requirements for the validity of a warrant which the statute itself does not impose. In so doing, there is a risk of having the worst of both worlds: the intention of the legislature to promote the investigation of crime may be frustrated on technical and arbitrary grounds, while the courts, in cases in which the outward formalities have been observed, remain incapable of protecting the substance of the individual right conferred by the Constitution.’
Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Clyde, Lord Hutton
[1997] UKPC 22, [1997] 3 WLR 389, [1998] AC 351
CitedEntick v Carrington KBD 1765
The Property of Every Man is Sacred
The King’s Messengers entered the plaintiff’s house and seized his papers under a warrant issued by the Secretary of State, a government minister.
Held: The common law does not recognise interests of state as a justification for allowing what . .
CitedRegina v Inland Revenue Commissioners ex parte Rossminster Ltd HL 13-Dec-1979
The House considered the power of an officer of the Board of Inland Revenue to seize and remove materials found on premises which a warrant obtained on application to the Common Serjeant authorised him to enter and search; but where the source of . .

Cited by:
CitedGibbs and others v Rea PC 29-Jan-1998
(Cayman Islands) The respondent worked for a bank. He disclosed a business interest, but that interest grew in importance to the point where he resigned in circumstances amounting to constructive dismissal. His home and business officers were raided . .
CitedHaralambous, Regina (on The Application of) v Crown Court at St Albans and Another SC 24-Jan-2018
The appellant challenged by review the use of closed material first in the issue of a search warrant, and subsequently to justify the retention of materials removed during the search.
Held: The appeal failed. No express statutory justification . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 16 May 2021; Ref: scu.159232