Regina 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 the power limited the power of seizure and removal to things ‘which he has reasonable cause to believe may be required as evidence for the purpose of proceedings’ for an offence involving a tax fraud. The warrant contained no particulars of the reason for the search. After the search (in which the Inland Revenue officers took vast quantities of materials but did not tell directors or officers of the company why it was taking them), the applicants challenged the whole procedure. They sought to quash the warrant.
Held: The claim failed. The House invoked the presumption of regularity ‘omnia praesumuntur rite esse acta’. In the absence of evidence to the contrary it was assumed that the judicial officer who issued warrants conscientiously carried out his duty, and so it could be assumed he had before him sufficient information to establish the necessary grounds.
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘The courts have the duty to supervise, I would say critically, even jealously, the legality of any purported exercise of these powers [powers of entry conferred on the Revenue]. They are the guardians of the citizen’s right to privacy. But they must do this in the context of the times, i.e. of increasing Parliamentary intervention, and of the modern power of judicial review . . while the courts may look critically at legislation which impairs the rights of citizens and should resolve any doubt in interpretation in their favour, it is no part of their duty, or power, to restrict or impede the working of legislation, even of unpopular legislation; to do so would be to weaken rather than to advance the democratic process.’ and
‘There is no mystery about the word ‘warrant’: it simply means a document issued by a person in authority under power conferred in that behalf authorising the doing of an act which would otherwise be illegal. The person affected of course, has the right to be satisfied that the power to issue it exists; therefore the warrant should (and did) contain a reference to that power.’
and ‘on the plain words of the enactment, the officers are entitled if they can persuade the board and the judge, to enter and search premises regardless of whom they belong to: a warrant which confers this power is strictly and exactly within the parliamentary authority, and the occupier has no answer to it. I accept that some information as regards the person(s) who are alleged to have committed an offence and possibly as to the approximate dates of the offences must almost certainly have been laid before the board and the judge. But the occupier has no right to be told of this at this stage, nor has he the right to be informed of the ‘reasonable grounds’ of which the judge was satisfied. Both courts agree as to this: all this information is clearly protected by the public interest immunity which covers investigations into possible criminal offences.’
Lord Diplock said: ‘These words appearing in a Statute do not make conclusive the officer’s own honest opinion that he has reasonable cause for the prescribed belief. The grounds on which the officer acted must be sufficient to induce in a reasonable person the required belief before he can validly seize and remove anything under the sub-section.’ and
‘Even though the statute may not strictly so require (a matter on which I express no concluded opinion) the warrant in my view ought to state upon its face the statutory authority under which it has been issued . .’
Viscount Dilhorne said: ‘It cannot in my view be emphasised too strongly that the section requires that the appropriate judicial authority should himself be satisfied of these matters and that it does not suffice for the person laying the information to say that he is.’
Lord Salmon said: ‘if officers of the board require search warrants, they must give evidence on oath laying before a circuit judge the grounds for their suspicion and . . the duty of the judge must then be to consider the evidence and decide whether he (the judge) is satisfied that it establishes reasonable ground for the board’s suspicion.’
Lord Scarman said: ‘The judge must himself be satisfied. It is not enough that the officer should state on oath that he is satisfied . . The issue of the warrant is a judicial act, and must be preceded by a judicial inquiry which satisfies the judge that the requirements for its issue have been met.’

Lord Wilberforce, Lord Diplock
[1980] AC 952, [1979] UKHL 5, [1980] 1 All ER 80
Finance Act 1976 57, Taxes Management Act 1970 20
England and Wales
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 . .
CitedNakkuda Ali v M F De S Jayaratne PC 1951
(Ceylon) The section provided that ‘where the Controller has reasonable grounds to believe that any dealer is unfit to be allowed to continue as a dealer’ the Controller could exercise power to cancel the dealer’s licence given to him by the . .
CitedConway v Rimmer HL 28-Feb-1968
Crown Privilege for Documents held by the Polie
The plaintiff probationary police constable had been investigated, prosecuted and cleared of an allegation of theft. He now claimed damages for malicious prosecution, and in the course of the action, sought disclosure of five documents, but these . .
CitedHuckle v Money 1763
An action for false imprisonment brought by a journeyman printer who apparently had played no part in printing the famous issue No. 45 of ‘The North Briton ‘ but had been arrested under a warrant issued by a Secretary of State authorising a King’s . .
CitedWilkes v Wood CCP 6-Dec-1763
Entry by Force was Unconstitutional
The plaintiff challenged a warrant of commitment to the Tower of London addressed to John Wilkes by name. The plaintiff sought damages after his property was entered by force on behalf of the Secretary of State.
Held: The case was decided on a . .
Dissenting judgment approvedLiversidge v Sir John Anderson HL 3-Nov-1941
The plaintiff sought damages for false imprisonment. The Secretary of State had refused to disclose certain documents. The question was as to the need for the defendant to justify the use of his powers by disclosing the documents.
Held: The . .
CitedChic Fashions (West Wales) Ltd v Jones CA 12-Dec-1967
Lord Denning MR said that a constable equipped with a search warrant: ‘may seize not only the goods which he reasonably to be covered by the warrant, but also any other goods which he believes on reasonable grounds to have been stolen and to be . .
CitedHome v Lord F C Bentinck 17-Jun-1820
The commander-in-chief of the army, having directed an assemblage of commissioned military officers to hold an enquiry into the conduct of H., a commissioned officer in the army ; and H. having sued the president of the enquiry for a libel stated to . .
CitedD v National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children HL 2-Feb-1977
Immunity from disclosure of their identity should be given to those who gave information about neglect or ill treatment of children to a local authority or the NSPCC similar to that which the law allowed to police informers.
Lord Simon of . .
CitedCassell and Co Ltd v Broome and Another HL 23-Feb-1972
Exemplary Damages Award in Defamation
The plaintiff had been awarded damages for defamation. The defendants pleaded justification. Before the trial the plaintiff gave notice that he wanted additional, exemplary, damages. The trial judge said that such a claim had to have been pleaded. . .
CitedInternational General Electric Co of New York Ltd v Commissioners of Customs and Excise 1962
Section 21 permits only a declaration of the rights of the parties in lieu of an injunction against officers of the Crown and this does not empower the court to grant interlocutory declarations which would be a contradiction in terms. . .
CitedRookes v Barnard (No 1) HL 21-Jan-1964
The court set down the conditions for the award of exemplary damages. There are two categories. The first is where there has been oppressive or arbitrary conduct by a defendant. Cases in the second category are those in which the defendant’s conduct . .

Cited by:
CitedCouncil for Licensed Conveyancers v Mooney and Another; Mooney v Council for Licensed Conveyancers and Viney CA 18-Dec-1997
The respondent’s practice had suffered intervention by the Council. He complained that they had not followed the required procedure.
Held: The notices were lawful. The issues were ones of public law, and the respondent was required to frame . .
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 . .
CitedNaidike, Naidike and Naidike v The Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago PC 12-Oct-2004
(Trinidad and Tobago) The claimant was arrested following expiry of the last of his work permits and after he had failed to provide evidence of his intention to leave. As he was arrested he was also arrested for assaulting a police officer. He was . .
CitedMercury Tax Group Ltd and Another, Regina (On the Application of) v HM Revenue and Customs and Others Admn 13-Nov-2008
The claimant sought judicial review of the lawfulness of search warrants given to the Commissioners and executed at their various offices. The Revenue had suspect the dishonest implementation of a tax avoidance scheme. The claimants said that there . .
CitedAttorney 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 . .
CitedArias and Others v Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police and Another CA 1-Aug-1984
A police officer searched premises under a warrant seizing documents of a trust corporation managed by the occupier. The trustees sought return of the documents or, alternatively, copies of them. The police believed that the documents were evidence . .
CitedAndrew v News Group Newspapers Ltd and Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis ChD 18-Mar-2011
The claimant sought unredacted disclosure of documents by the second defendant so that he could pursue an action against the first, who, he said, were thought to have intercepted his mobile phone messages, and where the second defendant had . .
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 . .
CitedBelhaj and Another v Director of Public Prosecutions and Another SC 4-Jul-2018
Challenge to decision not to prosecute senior Intelligence Service officials for alleged offences in connection with his unlawful rendition and mistreatment in Libya. The issue here was whether on the hearing of the application for judicial review, . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Administrative, Taxes Management

Leading Case

Updated: 09 November 2021; Ref: scu.180663