Harlequin Record Shops Ltd and Another

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date16 August 1979
Judgment citation (vLex)[1979] EWCA Civ J0816-1
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date16 August 1979

[1979] EWCA Civ J0816-1

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

On Appeal from The High Court of Justice

Queen's Bench Division

Divisional Court


The Master of the Rolls (Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Browne and

Lord Justice Goff

In The Matter of an Application By (1) Rossminster Limited and (2) A.J.R. Financial Services Limited and (3) Ronald Anthony Plummer and (4) Roy Clifford Tucker for Leave to Apply for Judicial Review


In The Matter of the Taxes Management Act 1970

MR. A. BATESON, Q.C. and MR. M. TUGENDHAT (instructed by Messrs. Roney Vincent & Co.) appeared on behalf of the Applicants (Appellants).

MR. B. DAVENPORT (instructed by the Solicitor to the Inland Revenue) appeared on behalf of the Respondent.


It was a military style operation. It was carried out by officers of the Inland Revenue in their war against tax frauds. Zero hour was fixed for 7.00 a.m. on Friday, 13th July, 1979. Everything was highly secret. The other side must not be forewarned. There was a briefing session beforehand. Some 70 officers or more of the Inland Revenue attended. They were given detailed instructions. They were divided into teams each with a leader. Each team had an objective allotted to it. It was to search a particular house or office, marked, I expect, on a map: and to seize any incriminating documents found therein. Each team leader was on the day to be handed a search warrant authorising him and his team to enter the house or office. It would be empowered to use force if need be. Each team was to be accompanied by a police officer. Sometimes more than one. The role of the police was presumably to be silent witnesses: or may be to let it be known that this was all done with the authority of the law: and that the householder had better not resist - or else!


Everything went according to plan. On Thursday, 12th July, Mr. Quinlan, the Senior Inspector of the Inland Revenue, went to the Central Criminal Court: and put before a circuit judge - the Common Sergeant - the suspicions which the Revenue held. The circuit judge signed the warrants. The officers made photographs of the warrants, and distributed them to the team leaders. Then in the early morning of Friday, 13th July - the next day - each team started off at first light. Each reached its objective. Some in London. Others in the Home Counties. At 7.00 a.m. there was a knock on each door. One was the home in Kensington of Mr. Ronald AnthonyPlummer, a chartered accountant. It was opened by his daughter aged 11. He came downstairs in his dressing-gown. The officers of the Inland Revenue were at the door accompanied by a detective inspector. The householder Mr. Plummer put up no resistance. He let them in. They went to his filing cabinet and removed a large number of files. They went to the safe and took building society passbooks, his children's cheque books and passports. They took his daughter's school report. They went to his bedroom, opened a suitcase, and removed a bundle of papers belonging to his mother. They searched the house. They took personal papers of his wife.


Another house was the home near Maidstone of Mr. Roy Clifford Tucker, a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants. He was away on business in Guernsey. So his wife opened the door. The officers of the Inland Revenue produced the search warrant. She let them in. She did not know what to do. She telephoned her husband in Guernsey. She told him that they were going through the house taking all the documents they could find. They took envelopes addressed to students who were tenants. They went up to the attic and took papers stored there belonging to Mr. Tucker's brother. They took Mr. Tucker's passport.


The main attack was reserved for the offices at No. 1 Hanover Square of the Rossminster group of companies of which Mr. Plummer and Mr. Tucker were directors. They were let in by one of the employees. Many officers of the Inland Revenue went in accompanied by police officers. It was a big set of offices with many rooms full of files, papers and documents of all kinds. They took large quantities of them, pushed them into plastic bags, carried them down in the lift, and loadedthem into a van. They carried them off to the offices of the Inland Revenue at Melbourne House in the Aldwych. Twelve van loads. They cleared out Mr. Tucker's office completely: and other rooms too. They spent the whole day on it from 7.00 a.m. until 6.30 at night. They did examine some of the documents carefully, but there were so many documents and so many files that they could not examine them all. They simply put a number on each file, included it in a list, and put it into the plastic bag. Against each file they noted the time they did it. It looks as if they averaged one file a minute. They did not stop at files. They took the shorthand notebooks of the typists - I do not suppose they could read them. They took some of the financial newspapers in a bundle. In one case the "top half" of a drawer was taken in the first instalment and the balance of the drawer was taken in the second.


Another set of offices was next door in St. George Street - I think along the same corridor. It was the office of A.J.R. Financial Services Limited. The director Mr. Hallas was not there, of course, at seven o'clock. He arrived at 9.10 a.m. He found the officers of the Inland Revenue packing the company's files into bags for removal. He said that it amounted to several hundreds of documents. Police officers were in attendance there too.


At no point did any of the householders make any resistance They did the only thing open to them. They went off to their solicitors. They saw counsel. They acted very quickly. By the evening they had gone to a judge of the Chancery Division, Mr. Justice Walton, and asked for and obtained an injunction to stop any trespassing on the premises. They telephoned the injunction through to Hanover Square at about a quarter to sixat night. The officers therefore brought the search, and seizure to an end. They had, however, by this time practically completed it. So the injunction made very little difference. If the lawyers had had more time to think about it, they would have realised that it was not a case where an injunction would lie against the officers of the Revenue. They were officers of the Crowns and under section 31 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 no injunction would lie against the Crown or its officers. So the lawyers did not proceed with their claim for an injunction. They took further advice. Counsel advised them that there might be a remedy under a new procedure recently available. It is to restrain abuses of power under order 53 of the Rules of the Supreme Court. Counsel advised that they might now apply for a declaration - a declaration which, if made, the Crown would be expected to obey. If the circumstances justified it - and if a declaration was made that the seizure was bad - that might be an efficient and expeditious remedy. Before that rule was enacted, the only thing to do would have been to submit to the seizure: to wait until everything had happened: and then to bring an action for damages. But under the new rule, there might be an expeditious remedy available by way of judicial review.


So end the facts. As far as my knowledge of history goes, there has been no search like it - and no seizure like it - in England since that Saturday, 30th April, 1763, when the Secretary of State issued a general warrant by which he authorised the King's messengers to arrest John Wilkes and seize all his books and papers. They took everything - all his manuscripts and all papers whatsoever. His pocket-book filled up the mouth of the sack. He applied to the courts.Chief Justice Pratt struck down the general warrant. You will find it all set out in The King v. John Wilkes (1763) 2 Wilson 151, Huckle v. Money (1763) 2 Wilson 205 and Entick v. Carrington (1765) 2 Wilson 275. Chief Justice Pratt said (at page 206):


"To enter a man's house by virtue of a nameless warrant, in order to procure evidence, is worse than the Spanish inquisition; a law under which no Englishman would wish to live an hour: it was a most daring public attack made upon the liberty of the subject".


Now we have to see in this case whether this warrant was valid or not. It all depends of course upon the statute. By the common law no search or seizure at any man's house can be made except for stolen goods. I set it all out in Chic Fashions v. Jones (1968) 2 Queen's Bench 299. Search and seizure is only authorised - and has been authorised - by many statutes in recent years. The one which concerns us was only passed in July 1976. It is a schedule to the Finance Act 1976. It is by section 20C. As it is so important, I will read it in full:


"If the appropriate judicial authority" - and he is defined as the circuit judge - "is satisfied on information on oath given by an officer of the Board that - (a) there is reasonable ground for suspecting that an offence involving any form of fraud in connection with, or in relation to, tax has been committed and that evidence of it is to be found on premises specified in the information; and (b) in applying under this section, the officer acts with the approval of the Board given in relation to the particular case, the authority may issue a warrant in waiting authorising an officer of the Board to enter the premises, if necessary by force, at any timewithin 14 days from the time of issue of the warrant, and search them…


"(3) On entering the premises with a warrant under this section, the officer may seize and remove any things whatsoever found there which he has reasonable cause to believe may be required as evidence for the purposes of proceedings in respect of such an offence as is mentioned in subsection (1) above".


That is the statute. It is under that statute...

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