In R (TL) v Chief Constable Surrey Police[1], it was found that the police did not have grounds to conduct an arrest and a search of a property, releasing on conditional bail a man of good character who had indicated a willingness to attend for interview voluntarily.

Facts

TL was involved in a long running Family Court matter. Allegations of rape and sexual assault were made by his former partner. The police investigation was notified to TL who, through his solicitor, indicated a willingness to attend for a voluntary interview. The police considered doing so, but determined it was necessary to arrest TL so that there could be a search of his premises in order to gather evidence from computer equipment for evidence of controlling behaviour against the alleged victim, and, also, so as to ensure bail conditions could be imposed to avoid any interference or contact with the alleged victim.

Findings

In relation to the latter, the Judge found the decision to impose bail conditions was made on ‘general policy grounds rather than the particular circumstances of [TL]’. An alternative was simply to warn TL not to contact her. The police had not properly assessed the complainant’s credibility, given a background of other complaints that had not been substantiated, or taken into account the fact that TL had cooperated with them over a seven week period prior to his arrest.

In relation to the search of premises undertaken, the Judge accepted that there was a proper basis for believing that straightforward voluntary production by TL may not have been effective. However, he was concerned that, due to the time frame of the investigation, there was nothing to have prevented an application to a magistrate for a search warrant.

He was anxious that utilising powers under PACE could circumvent the critical analysis of the application before a magistrate. As TL had known for some time the police were investigating him, he had effectively been tipped off by the police and therefore there was no imminent risk of him destroying evidence that justified the search of the premises under Section 18 of PACE. Instead, an application to the Magistrates Court for a search warrant under Section 8 of PACE should have been made.

TL was awarded damages.

Conclusion

This case demonstrates that while the police officers have the power to arrest and undertake searches, there will be certain circumstances in which such powers are unnecessary and disproportionate.

This is particularly in a case where there is an indication that the suspect will attend for interview voluntarily, where there is no pressing need for a search to be undertaken immediately, and where the suspect is otherwise of good character.

This may have particular practical importance when for medical and dental practitioners who find themselves arrested by the police for allegations that are not very recent, where there appears to be no evidence that can be ascertained by a search or forensics and when there can be no real prospect of the practitioner seeking to intimidate witnesses without bail conditions being imposed.