The High Court has ruled that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) (formerly the Competition Authority) seized documents to which it was not entitled in a dawn raid.

Under Irish competition legislation, the CCPC can conduct unannounced inspections (dawn raids) at business premises and can seize and inspect documents (including electronic documents). To do this, the CCPC must first obtain a warrant from a District Court judge.

In May 2015, as part of its investigation into the practices of Irish Cement Limited (ICL), the CCPC conducted a dawn raid at the company’s premises in Platin, Co Meath. During the raid, the CCPC took a copy of various documents, including e-mails in an account belonging to Mr Seamus Lynch. Mr Lynch was the former Managing Director of ICL and at the time of the raid was a senior executive in ICL’s parent company, CRH plc (CRH). The e-mail account accessed was a CRH account, not an ICL account.

In November 2015, Mr Lynch, ICL and CRH sued the CCPC. Among other claims, they alleged that the authority had exceeded the scope of the warrant authorising the dawn raid by seizing Mr Lynch’s crh.com account. In his judgment of 5 April 2015, Mr Justice Barrett agreed. He noted that Mr Lynch’s crh.com e-mail account was likely to contain Mr Lynch’s private information, which the CCPC was not entitled to see. He therefore granted an injunction preventing the CCPC from reviewing or making any use of the materials until an agreement could be reached with the plaintiffs on an appropriate sifting process.

The judgment confirms that the CCPC must always act within the scope of a warrant and sets a useful precedent for businesses seeking to resist the seizure of material during a dawn raid.