Aziz Rahman of Rahman Ravelli
Aziz Rahman, of award-winning business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, on how to ensure the best possible outcome if your premises is searched by the authorities.
The raids at Newcastle United and West Ham United football clubs made plenty of headlines.
A combination of two famous clubs, 180 officers being used in raids in the UK and in France and people being arrested made for dramatic headlines. It is also a story that is set to run for a while, as investigations continue.
Behind the headlines, however, the incident indicates two important issues for those in business. The first is the determination by the authorities to crack down on tax evasion – an issue we considered in our previous article.
The second, which is the subject of this article, is the importance of minimising the harmful effects of a raid on your premises.
Raids are more common than you may think. Many go unreported. With the Criminal Finances Bill set to become law this year, its measures regarding tax evasion, money laundering and bribery and corruption are likely to lead to more companies being raided, as the authorities seek evidence to support their suspicions of wrongdoing.
The seizure of documents, digital material, computers and phone equipment in a raid can present challenges for a company. But the right approach and some forward thinking can go a long way towards making sure you keep functioning as a business after a raid.
Such an approach will also mean you are in the strongest possible position to challenge any allegations made by the authorities.
With the right legal advice, a company can minimise the effect of a raid and prevent investigators overstepping the mark.
Agencies that carry out raids in relation to business crime can, and do, get it wrong. For example, in the case of Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) paid the brothers a total of £4.5M plus legal costs in 2012 and apologised for arresting them and raiding their premises on the basis of inadequate information that had not properly researched.
In another case, R (Cook) V Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) 2011, SOCA had to pay damages and legal costs and was not allowed to keep material seized in a raid because it did not follow the correct legal procedure for leaving schedules to the warrant at the raided premises.
These cases are just two of many where the authority that has carried out the raid has made mistakes and been penalised. But there are many others.
The challenge is to make sure that, if a raid happens, a company’s staff know what they should be doing. This will give the company a much better chance of keeping the documentation and the equipment it needs to keep operating as normal.
No one can predict with certainty when, or even if, a raid is to be carried out.
But the damage they can cause can be greatly reduced by having a strategy in place to:
Investigating authorities must apply for a warrant to raid a premises. Most are issued under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), which lays down rules regarding the application for a warrant and the raid the warrant relates to. If the authorities do not follow these rules, it can lead to the warrant being quashed, any property seized in the raid returned and the chances of a prosecution being brought becoming more unlikely.
This all helps your business keep trading as per normal. But it does mean that people within your company have to have knowledge of the law in this field – or at least quick access to people who do.
Checking that the search warrant was applied for and issued properly and that investigators comply with it is crucial. If the people carrying out the raid are not those named on the warrant or they take items not mentioned on the warrant, there could be grounds for the raid being deemed unlawful by the courts.
Section 21 of PACE gives people rights of access to their material once it has been seized. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has issued guidelines on how officers should handle digital material in a raid. The Attorney General’s Guidance on Disclosure has also stated that those carrying out the raid must consider what digital evidence they are likely to find, the possibility of viewing or copying it, the effect on the business of seizing any material and the timescale for returning it.
Such guidance and legislation indicates how those carrying out the raid should act. But this is not always the case.
By using the law and the protection it offers, in tandem with appropriate procedures, businesses can minimise the damage a raid can cause. This will greatly increase your chances of continuing to do business.
Aziz Rahman is founder of Rahman Ravelli; a top-ranked business crime law firm in national and international legal guides.
For more information, visit: http://www.rahmanravelli.co.uk