Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis v Dawn B

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division (Administrative Court)
JudgeLord Justice Beatson,Mr Justice Griffith Williams
Judgment Date03 Mar 2014
Neutral Citation[2014] EWHC 546 (Admin)
Docket NumberCase No: CO/9303/2013

[2014] EWHC 546 (Admin)




Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


Lord Justice Beatson

Mr Justice Griffith Williams

Case No: CO/9303/2013

Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis
Dawn B

Rajeev Shetty (instructed by Metropolitan Police Department of Legal Services) for the Appellant

Jude Bunting (instructed by Fisher Meredith) for the Respondent

Hearing date: 12 December 2013

Lord Justice Beatson

This is an appeal by way of case stated under section 111 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980 ("the 1980 Act"). It concerns the disclosure of the Information laid before Magistrates in support of an application for a search warrant of the home address of the respondent, Ms Dawn B under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs 1971 ("the 1971 Act"). Section 23 of the 1971 Act empowers a Justice of the Peace who is satisfied by information on oath that there is reasonable ground for suspecting that any controlled drugs are in the possession of a person on any premises to grant a warrant authorising the police to search the premises and any persons found in them. The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis ("the Commissioner") appeals against the decision of District Judge (Magistrates Courts) Crane made on 26 March 2013 at the Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court ("the Magistrates' Court") to order disclosure of the Information and the notes made by the legal adviser to the Justices in Ms B' case.

The factual and procedural history:


On 24 September 2012, Justices of the Peace sitting at the Enfield Magistrates Court granted a search warrant authorising a search of Ms B' home address at K Road, Enfield. Ms B lived at the premises with her granddaughter and grandson. At the material time they were respectively 13 and 11 years old. The warrant was executed by police officers at around 6:00pm. Ms B was restrained using handcuffs and two uniformed female police officers conducted an intimate search of her. The officers also sprayed her dogs from an object resembling a fire extinguisher. No illicit property was found during the search, and no property was seized.


On 30 October 2012, Ms B' solicitors, Fisher Meredith, wrote to the Magistrates Court asking to see the Information that was laid before the Justices when the application for the warrant was made. In response to a question by the court they stated they required it in order to be able to advise her about a potential claim against the police. The Commissioner objected to the disclosure of the Information on the ground of Public Interest Immunity (hereafter "PII"), although no explanation as to why was given. Consideration was given by Ms B' solicitors to instituting judicial review proceedings, and a letter before claim dated 14 December 2012 was sent to the Court and the Commissioner. As a result of exchanges between the solicitors and the Deputy Justices' Clerk to the Magistrates' Court, she did not launch judicial review proceedings. The Deputy Justices' Clerk suggested that she could apply to the Court for the disclosure of the Information and she later did so. The Court informed the solicitors that, because the Commissioner was claiming PII, a redacted copy of the Information would be provided, and that, if this was not accepted as sufficient, an application would have to be made.


On 2 January 2013, the Commissioner's solicitors disclosed a redacted copy of the Information. This stated that there were "reasonable grounds for suspecting Dawn B …of selling class A drugs – heroin – from her home address". A copy of the redacted Information is in an Appendix to this judgment. The covering letter stated that "the Information is redacted to prevent the disclosure of information for which my client claims Public Interest Immunity". It is now clear that the basis of the claim to PII is essentially because of the nature of the source of the information in the Information, and because the Commissioner considers that disclosing it would enable the nature of the source and the source itself to be ascertained. Mr Bunting's written submissions on behalf of Ms B before the District Judge and his written and oral submissions to this court were made on the assumption that the Commissioner's case was that non-disclosure is necessary to protect an individual source of intelligence, whether by covert surveillance or human information; i.e. information from an informant.


In a letter dated 3 January 2013 to the Commissioner, Ms B' solicitors asked to be furnished with a document containing the "gist" of the Information, and an indication of its reliability and timeliness. The response, in a letter dated 9 January, stated inter alia:

"…reliable information was received by police within the month prior to the application for the warrant. The Information was cross-referenced with police databases and found to be credible."

The solicitors were not satisfied with that, and, on 28 February 2013, they applied to the Magistrates Court for full disclosure of the Information or an adequate, properly particularised gist of it. On 6 March the Commissioner agreed that it was appropriate to determine the issue of disclosure at a preliminary hearing in the Magistrates' Court. The matter was listed for hearing on 26 March.


There is no express provision in legislation or the Rules as to the procedure for disclosure of an Information. The Magistrates' Court and the parties agreed that the procedure used in EastEnders Cash & Carry v South Western Magistrates Court [2011] EWHC 937 (Admin) reported at [2011] 2 Cr App. R 11 and G v Commissioner of Police [2011] EWHC 3331 (Admin) would be followed. It is convenient to summarise here the procedure followed in those cases. They concerned warrants to search premises, in the first case for firearms, and in the second case, for indecent photographs of children. After the warrants were executed, the owners of the properties searched requested a copy of the Information laid before the court. In the Eastenders case the court initially refused to provide it, and in G's case the police refused to provide it. In both cases, the refusal relied on PII. As a result of this, applications for disclosure of the Information were made to the courts.


In the Eastenders case it is stated in the decision of this Court that the Magistrates' Court heard representations from the police but not the claimant. In G's case, all that is stated in the decision of this Court is that the Magistrates' Court had skeleton arguments from the claimant and the police. Both applications were granted and the Informations disclosed. After the disclosure, the applicants brought judicial review proceedings challenging the lawfulness of the decisions to grant the search warrants. The application in Eastenders' case did not succeed. That in G's case did. This Court held that the application for the warrant was unlawfully made and the warrant unlawfully granted because the Information supplied by the police in order to obtain it was inaccurate, misleading and incomplete and granted a declaration to that effect.

The procedure in the Magistrates' Court:


Returning to the present case, the details of the material in the Information were not disclosed to Ms B or her representatives. Skeleton arguments were provided to the Court by both parties, although the one on behalf of the Commissioner and the bundle of authorities lodged on his behalf provided to Ms B' representatives was redacted. In Mr Bunting's skeleton argument on behalf of Ms B, it was inter alia stated that no written basis for asserting PII was provided to Ms B, and, as I have noted, Mr Bunting's written submissions were made on the assumption that the Commissioner's case was that non-disclosure is necessary to protect an individual source of intelligence. Mr Bunting also submitted that there is no evidence that Ms B poses any risk of violence or reprisal to any such source or the vulnerability, which was not surprising since the material disclosed to the Court was not disclosed to her or her representatives. The focus of the skeleton argument was that the "gist provided" fell far short of a lawful "gist" because Ms B had no idea what information was provided to the Commissioner, the allegations in it, how reliable the information was, or what information contained in police databases confirmed that information.


At the hearing, after the parties introduced themselves, as is usual at some stage in PII applications in both civil and criminal litigation, Ms B' representatives were invited to leave the court. In what the District Judge described as the ex parte in camera section of the hearing, which I shall refer to as the "closed" hearing, the Court heard evidence from a police officer, and submissions on behalf of the Commissioner. After the closed hearing, the District Judge stated that Ms B' application was granted. She ordered full disclosure of the Information as well as of the legal adviser's notes taken during the hearing of the application for a warrant. She prepared a judgment containing a summary of the submissions and the evidence heard, and her conclusions on the claim for PII and the adequacy of the revised "gist" proposed by the Commissioner which I summarise below and summarise more fully in the closed judgment I shall hand down at the same time as this. Understandably, she did not give this judgment in open court. Mr Bunting, on behalf of Ms B, stated that the District Judge announced the result but did not explain why the application had been allowed, what legal test she had...

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    • Supreme Court
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