Regina v HM Commissioners of Customs and Excise ex parte Bottlestop: Admn 14 May 1997

The company complained of the seizure and retention of items pursuant to a search warrant. The warrant authorised entry to the Claimant’s premises to ‘search for documents and other papers in relation to the movement of excisable goods’. In executing the warrant customs officers removed all written and computer records of Bottlestop including its computer terminal, keyboard, mouse and all floppy discs.
Held: The court rejecting a submission that the warrant did not extend to the computer.
Forbes J said: ‘. . it is said that the computer hardware, mouse, keyboard and such like, were unlawfully seized under the terms of the warrant, because the warrant was restricted to the search and seizure of documents. Again, there is no substance in that criticism. The data stored electronically on either the hard disk of the base units of the computer in question or on the floppy disks were all documents for the purposes of the warrant. That seems to me to be beyond argument. It appears that it was not fully appreciated that the base unit would include the hard disk within it and that the hard disk would have upon it electronically stored data and thus satisfies the definition of being a document for the purposes of the warrant. So far as items such as the mouse and the keyboard are concerned, arguably those were not documents and it may be, although I make no conclusive finding about the matter that, in taking those pieces of hardware, the officers in question may have gone beyond the terms of the warrant. Having regard to the fact that they are, to all intents, part and parcel of the base unit which are required to enable the base unit to be operated and since the base unit contained documents in the form of electronically stored material on the hard disk, it does seem to me that it is strongly arguable by Customs and Excise that the keyboard and mouse are part and parcel of the base unit, although detachable from it. If they are part and parcel of the base unit, then they are part and parcel of the packaging of the documents in question. However, it does not seem to me to be necessary to resolve such an interesting academic point in this case, because all the computer and its hardware were returned to the applicant in January of this year. There is therefore no need for this aspect of the matter to be resolved by reference to public law principles. Any legitimate complaint that the applicant may have so far as concerns the mouse, the keyboard and perhaps the VDU are, so it seems to me, perfectly capable of being dealt with by reference to remedies available in the field of private law. Accordingly, for those reasons I am satisfied that there is no substance in that aspect of the applicant’s arguments.’


Forbes J


[1997] EWHC Admin 467




England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedGlenn and Co (Essex) Ltd), Regina (on The Application of) v HM Revenue and Customs Admn 18-Jun-2010
The company objected to the search of its offices and removal by the defendant of its computers, the officers having entered without any warrant purporting to use powers under the 1989 Act.
Held: The request for judicial review failed. The . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Customs and Excise

Updated: 26 May 2022; Ref: scu.137412