Simple Imports Ltd v Revenue Commissioners

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeBARRON J.,Keane, J.
Judgment Date19 January 2000
Neutral Citation[2000] IESC 40
Date19 January 2000
CourtSupreme Court
Docket Number[S.C.
SIMPLE IMPORTS LIMITED & SEVEN IMPORTS LIMITED v. REVENUE COMMISSIONERS & ORS

BETWEEN

SIMPLE IMPORTS LIMITED AND SEVEN IMPORTSLIMITED
Applicant

AND

THE REVENUE COMMISSIONERS, DISTRICT JUDGE HAMILL,DISTRICT JUDGE RIORDAN AND DISTRICT JUDGE REILLY
Respondents

[2000] IESC 40

Barrington, J.

Keane, J.

Barron, J.

THE SUPREME COURT

Synopsis

Practice and Procedure

Judicial review; certiorari; validity of warrants issued by District Court judges; claim had been dismissed in High Court; appeal to Supreme Court; whether there was evidence before the District Judge to justify the issue of the several warrants; whether customs officer had reasonable grounds for suspicion that goods were on premises; whether warrants disclosed that District Judge had reasonable cause for believing that customs officer had such suspicion; whether exercise of jurisdiction to issue warrants had been properly conveyed in words of warrants, i.e, whether warrants good on their face.

Held: Appeal allowed; warrants did not indicate that suspicion of customs officer that goods were on premises was a reasonable suspicion.

Simple Imports Ltd. v. Revenue Commissioners - Supreme Court: Barrington J., Keane J., Barron J.* (*dissenting). - 19/01/2000 - [2000] 2 IR 243

The applicant brought proceedings relating to the search of its premises and the seizure of goods. The applicant claimed that the warrants authorising the officers of the Revenue Commissioners to carry the acts in question were unlawful and of no effect. The applicant sought an order of certiorari quashing the search warrants, an injunction directing the return of the seized goods and damages for trespass. Keane J, as he was then, delivering judgment (with Barrington J agreeing) held that warrants which carried on their face statements to the effect that they had been issued on a basis not authorised by statute were invalid and must be quashed. An injunction would also issue directing the respondents to deliver up the goods of the applicant seized on foot of the warrants. Barron J delivered a dissenting judgment holding that as there was no error occurring within jurisdiction relating to the issue of the warrants an order of certiorari should not issue.

Citations:

CUSTOMS CONSOLIDATION ACT 1876 S205

CUSTOMS & EXCISE (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) ACT 1988 S5(1)

CUSTOMS CONSOLIDATION ACT 1876 S42

R V INLAND REVENUE COMMISSIONERS EX-PARTE ROSSMINSTER 1980 AC 952

BYRNE V GREY 1988 IR 31

AG OF JAMAICA V WILLIAMS 1998 AC 351

ENTICK V CARRINGTON 1765 2 WILS 275

CONSTITUTION ART 40.5

TAXES MANAGEMENT ACT 1970 S20C (UK)

BERKELEY V EDWARDS 1988 IR 217

CUSTOMS CONSOLIDATION ACT 1876 S267

CUSTOMS & EXCISE (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) ACT 1988 S5

1

19th day of January 2000,byKeane, J.

Keane, J.
The Factual and Statutory Background
2

This case raises an issue which has concerned the courts on a number of occasions in recent years, i.e. the validity of search warrants. The warrants now under challenge were issued by the three District Judges names as respondents in the proceedings and purported to authorise officers of the first named respondent, the Revenue Commissioners, to enter premisesowned by the applicants in Dublin, Cork and Limerick, to search for material said to be indecent, obscene or pornographic and, if found, to seize and remove such material. Another set of warrants purported to authorise the officers named to search for books or documents relating to transactions in contravention of the laws relating to customs and seize and remove any such books or documents that might be found on thepremises.

3

The first category of warrants was issued in purported exercise of a power conferred by s. 205 of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876, which provides that:-

"If any officer of Customs shall have reasonable cause to suspect that any uncustomed or probibited goods are barboured kept or concealed in any house or other place either in the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands, and it shall be made to appear by information on o4th before any justice of the peace in the United Kingdom or the Channel Islands, it shall be lawful for such justice, by special warrant under his hand, to authorise such officer to enter and search such house or other place, and to seize and carry away any such uncustomed or prohibited goods as may be found therein;: and it shall be lawful for such officer, and he is hereby authorised, in case of resistance, to break open any door, and to force and remove any other impediment or obstruction to such entry search or seizure as aforesaid: and such officer may if he sees fit avail himself of the service of any constable or police officer to aid and assist in the execution of such warrant, and any constable or other police officer is hereby required when so called upon to aid and assistaccordingly."

4

The second category of warrants was granted in purported exercise of the power conferred by s.5(1) if the Customs and Excise (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1988, which is as follows:-

"If a Justice of the District Court or a Peace Commissioner is satisfied by information on oath of an officer of Customs and Excise that there is reasonable ground for suspecting that any books or documents relating to transactions in contravention of the laws relating to customs are kept or concealed in any premises or place, such Justice or Commissioner may issue a search warrant under thissection."

5

The reference in the 1876 Act to a "justice of the peace" as adapted is a reference to a District Judge, Section 42 of that Act sets out a table of goods prohibited to be imported into the United Kingdom including :

"Indecent or obscence prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards lithographic or other engravings, or any other indecent or obsencearticles."

6

On foot of the warrants in question, officers of the Revenue Commissioners went to the premises of the applicants in Dublin, Cork and Limerick and seized a quantity of magazines, compact discs, videos and documents. Onthe 13th December, 1996, the applicants were given leave by the High Court to apply for the following reliefs by way of judicialreview:-

7

(i) A declaration that the warrants were unlawful, void and of no legal effect;

8

(ii) An order of certiorari quashing thewarrants;

9

(iii) An injunction directing the respondents to deliver up to the applicants all the goods seized on foot of the warrants;

10

(iv) Damages for trespass;

11

(v) An injunction preventing the respondents from dealing in any way with the goods seized on foot of the warrants.

12

The grounds upon which that relief was sought and which were pursued in the proceedings in the High Court and in this court were:-

13

(1) That the warrants on their face showed a lack ofjurisdiction;

14

(2) That there was not infomation on oath before the District Judges from which it could have appeared to them or which could have satisfied them that the officers had reasonable cause for suspecting that there were uncustomed or prohibited goods on the premises or that they had resonable ground for suspecting that books or documents relating to such goods were on the premises.

15

A statement of opposition having been filed on behalf of the respondents, a notice of motion seeking the reliefs in question came on for hearing before the late Shanley J. In a judgment delivered on June 12th, 1998, he dismissed the applicant's claim. From that decision, they now appeal to this court.

The Warrants and Informations
16

The warrants in each case were in a standard form, with the blank spaces being filled in with hand written entries. For the purpose of this judgment, it is sufficient to set out one warrant only in the case of each Act, since the warrants issued in Dublin, Cork and Limerick were substantially similar. They are set out in photocopied form in the appendix to this judgment.

17

It will be seen that, in the case of the 1876 Act, the warrant recites that in appears to the District Judge by the information on oath of the officer (Peter R. Mooney) that:-

"... the said Peter R. Mooney hath cause to suspect and doth suspect that certain goods to wit indecent and or obscece pornographic material the same being uncustomed or prohibited goods are harboared, kept or concealed in a certain place to wit..."

18

In the case of the 1988 Act, the warrant recites that it appears to the District Judge by the information on oath of the officer that:-

"... the said Peter R. Mooney has cause to suspect and doth suspect that certain Books or Documents relating to transactions in contravention of the laws relating to Customs are kept or concealed in a certain premises or place to wit ..."

19

The affidavits filed in support of the statement of opposition exhibited the information on oath sworn by the officer concerned before the District Judge in each case. In addition, the affidavits set out what transpired in the course of the application for the issusing of thewarrant.

20

In the Cork case, the officer, Mr. Patrick G. O'Regan, swore two informations. The first recited that he had reasonable cause to suspect and did suspect that uncustomed or prohibited goods, i.e. books magazines and video recorded tapes, were kept on the specified premises. In the information, he also stated that:-

"I observed on the primises what appeared to be indecent or obscence material was imported into the State."

21

The second information sworn by him was broadly to the same effect but directed to the requirements of the 1988 Act. In the case of each of these informations, there is appended a note initialled by the District Judge as follows:-

22

"Oral evidence given"

23

In paragraph 5 of the Affidavit, Mr. O'Riordan says:-

"In the course of seeking the said Warrants, I advised District Judge Riordan that I had visited the premises and of the opinion I had formed and the basis therefor. District Judge Riordan...

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