Reynolds v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis: 1985

A search warrant had been obtained under the 1913 Act. The court considered the existence of a tort of obtaining a search warrant maliciously.
Waller LJ discussed the problem facing police officers when a large volume of material were to be examined: ‘To do a detailed examination in the house would no doubt have required several police officers to be there for some days causing disturbance to the householder, that might require comparisons to be made with other documents already in the possession of the police. This would require either the documents to be taken to the police station or the other documents to be brought to the house. ….. Searching and taking away papers is an invasion of liberty and any such action must be carefully scrutinised. Where it is done in pursuance of a search warrant or on arrest, the police must consider the way in which they perform the search. If there are only a few papers, no doubt they can be carefully scrutinised on the spot without too much disturbance to the household. If there are many papers, it may be in the best interests of the householder for the police to be broadly selective, i.e. rule out documents which are clearly irrelevant, and take others which they reasonably believe to be of evidential value to examine more closely at the police station. It will of course be of the greatest importance to ensure that documents which prove to be of no evidential value should be returned at the earliest opportunity. In my judgement the question in every such case must be whether the police were acting reasonably or not.’ and
‘The police were not entitled to seize every document that they could lay hands on, at all events without the approval of the first plaintiff. On the other hand, they wer entitled to take documents which they reasonably believed to be forged or would be of evidential value in proceedings for fraud. The officers could obviously take a file which would contain such a document without separating out the individual sheet and it would be a matter for the jury whether what they had taken was reasonable.’
Slade LJ: ‘(1) No matter how convenient this course may seem to be, a police officer acting under a search warrant issued under the Forgery Act 1913 is not entitled, without the consent of the owner, indiscriminately to remove from the premises each and every file, book, bundle or document he can lay his hands on, even if only for the purpose of temporary sorting. Before doing so, he must have regard to the nature and contents of the item in question.
(2) However, provided that he acts reasonably in so doing, he is entitled to remove from the premises files, books, bundles or documents which at the time of removal he reasonably believes contain (i) forged material, or (ii) material which might be of evidential value, as showing that the owner is implicated in some other crime.
(3) Any necessary sorting process in relation to all items removed (e.g., those contained in files and bundles) should be carried out with reasonable expedition and those of them which are not found to fall within either of the two relevant categories should then be returned reasonably promptly to the owner.’
Purchas LJ: ‘This is an area in which the balance between the importance of assisting the police in the detection of crime, and preserving the rights of the individual, must be scrupulously observed. Provided that the police have reasonable grounds in relation to any particular document or file of documents, or other property, for thinking that it might be connected with any crime committed by the first plaintiff, then it would be open to the jury to find that the removal of it was a justified and reasonable action to take in order to make a further and more detailed examination elsewhere. But if the jury were not satisfied that the documents involved in the seizure did command the reasonable suspicion of the police, then, in my view, the jury ought to have found in favour of the plaintiff in respect of trespass to those particular documents.’


Waller LJ, Slade LJ, Purchas LJ


[1985] QB 881


Forgery Act 1913 16(1)


England and Wales


See AlsoReynolds v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis CA 18-May-1982
The plaintiff had been awarded andpound;12,000 damages for false imprisonment by the Commissiner’s officers. Officers had suspected the existence of a repeat arsonist operating an insurance fraud. The plaintiff’s husband owned one of the properties. . .

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 . .
CitedRegina v Chief Constable for Warwickshire and Others Ex Parte Fitzpatrick and Others QBD 1-Oct-1997
Judicial Review is not the appropriate way to challenge the excessive nature of a search warrant issues by magistrates. A private law remedy is better. Jowitt J said: ‘Judicial review is not a fact finding exercise and it is an extremely . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Torts – Other

Updated: 12 May 2022; Ref: scu.184702