Report calls for restriction of ‘dawn raids’

Law Reform Commission’s core recommendation is for the introduction of a search warrants Act

The reform commission recommends that only courts should be allowed to issue search warrants. Photograph: Frank Miller

The reform commission recommends that only courts should be allowed to issue search warrants. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

“Dawn raids” should be restricted, gardaí should no longer be allowed issue search warrants, and High Court judges should be able to permit warrants at short notice by videolink or phone, according to the Law Reform Commission.

In a report published today, the commission’s core recommendation is for the introduction of a Search Warrants Act. More than 300 separate pieces of legislation currently govern the issuing of warrants, giving rise to “a serious risk of confusion and inefficiency”.

Every year thousands of search warrants are issued to allow searches of properties or seizure of material connected with suspected theft, drugs offences, corporate offences and other suspected crimes.

While most warrants are issued by the District Court on foot of an application from a garda, regulators such as the Central Bank and the Environmental Regulation Agency can also apply for search warrants. Peace commissioners and Garda superintendents can also issue warrants in certain circumstances.

The commission recommends that only courts should be allowed to issue search warrants. In urgent cases, the warrant should be authorised by a High Court judge by live videolink or phone.

Warrants should be issued for seven days, with the possibility to extend for a maximum of three times that. Emergency warrants issued by a High Court judge should be valid for 24 hours.

Seven days is the standard period for warrants, with emergency warrants valid for 24 or 48 hours. Some warrants, linked to the Central Bank’s functions or company law, should continue to be valid for 30 days, the report said.

Daylight hours

The Minister for Justice and Equality should issue a code of practice to cover the procedures for search warrants, but a failure to comply with the suggested new law, or with the code, should not of itself affect the admissibility of evidence. The rules on admissibility or inadmissibility of illegally and unconstitutionally obtained evidence should continue to be developed by the courts, the commission said.

The Report on Search Warrants and Bench Warrants does not recommend providing for “anticipatory warrants”, issued on the belief that evidence, for instance a consignment of drugs, is likely to be at a particular location at a time subsequent to issuing the warrant. Such warrants could provide “overly expansive discretion on law enforcement officials”.