Dawn raids: What are they and who has the power to carry one out?

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A dawn raid is an unannounced visit by a regulatory body to gather evidence of suspected non-compliance with legal obligations.

Dawn raids usually occur without warning or notice, early in the morning, under a warrant or Court Order. Most regulators can carry out dawn raids, but the most common are the Police, NCA, HMRC, FCA, CMA, EA, GLAA, ICO and Trading Standards.

Is a warrant needed?

A regulatory body can conduct a dawn raid without a warrant, but it means the investigators have reduced powers.

If a regulator arrives without a warrant, they do not have the power to search the premises, nor can they use force when entering. They can, however:

  • require an individual to produce or explain documents that are relevant to the investigation;
  • require an individual to state where a document can be found;
  • require an individual to produce a readable form of information stored in electronic format so that it can be taken away;
  • take reasonable steps to preserve, or prevent interference with, documents, such as applying seals;
  • require any individuals connected with the business under investigation to answer questions on matters relevant to the investigation.

A warrant extends the investigator’s powers. If a regulatory body obtains a warrant, it can:

  • use reasonable force to obtain entry to the premises;
  • search the premises;
  • seize original documents;
  • take reasonable steps to preserve, or prevent interference with, documents;
  • take copies of documents or information to which the regulator is not otherwise entitled if said documents form an inseparable part of a larger, copiable item.

Investigations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

The HSE’s investigating officers have the power to enter any premises to investigate incidents of non-compliance with health and safety requirements. The powers are the same as those deployed in dawn raids not backed by a warrant, meaning the HSE can also enter any premises if an investigating officer deems it necessary for the purposes of examining and investigating incidents. Once on the premises, the investigating officer can: order areas to be left undisturbed; take samples, photographs, and copies of documents; and require individuals to produce documents for inspection.

What should I do in the event of a dawn raid?

In the event of a dawn raid, an individual commits an offence if they:

  • obstruct an officer in carrying out an on-site investigation, regardless of whether they have a warrant;
  • destroy and/ or falsify a document requested by a regulatory body;
  • provide false or misleading information to the regulatory body;
  • fail to comply with a requirement imposed by an investigating officer.

Dawn raids are a risk that all businesses face, but they can be managed with proper planning. Here are our top Do’s and Don’ts:

DO have a dawn raid policy setting out what front line staff should do in the event of a raid.

DO have an escalation process so the frontline staff know immediately who to contact.

DO have access to experienced lawyers who can proactively manage the raid with you.

DON’T just allow the investigators to go where they wish. Check the warrant, understand their powers and ensure they stick within them.

Our Regulatory & Business Defence team is on hand to support you and your teams through a dawn raid. We can help you to draft your policy, train your teams on implementation, and be on the end of a phone when the regulators arrive. Whether it is one location or multiple sites being raided at the same time, we will talk to the regulators straight away on the telephone to agree the parameters of the search and ensure they don’t start before our experienced team arrives on location.

Gateley Plc is authorised and regulated by the SRA (Solicitors' Regulation Authority). Please visit the SRA website for details of the professional conduct rules which Gateley Legal must comply with.

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