R (on the application of Glenn & Co (Essex) Ltd) v HMRC  EWHC 1469 (Admin)
16 May 2012
Posted by: SAIT Technical
In a UK case, R (on
the application of Glenn & Co (Essex) Ltd) v HMRC  EWHC 1469 (Admin), the Administrative Court was
asked to consider the legality of HMRC’s actions in removing computers
from business premises.
taxpayer company dealt in excise goods and had been registered as a revenue
trader. HMRC officers had entered the taxpayer’s business premises,
unannounced, and without having obtained a warrant and stated that the purpose
of the operation was to conduct interviews and to inspect business records
officers disconnected and removed a computer server and desktop computers to
interrogate their hard disks. The following day all but one of the computers
were returned, with the remaining computer and server being returned on a later
taxpayer’s business premises was accessed, unannounced, and without having
obtained a warrant for search and seizure.
challenged, by way of an application for judicial review, the legality of the
officers’ conduct in removing the computers on the ground that s 118B of the UK Customs and Excise Management
Act 1979 did not permit their
removal because they were not documents as defined.
court noted that search and seizure, as envisaged in terms of s 118B, permitted
‘a substantial intrusion into the affairs of the persons against whom it may be
invoked’ and there was, therefore, a particular need to ensure ‘that the
provision is given no wider reading than Parliament must
be taken to have intended’.
court was of the view that, as a matter of first impression, the words
contained in s 114(2) were sufficiently wide to extend the inspection power
contained in s 118B to a computer, as a computer is a thing in which
information is recorded.
the taxpayer contended that a document was something tangible on which evidence
or information is physically recorded and, by contrast, a computer is a piece
of machinery comprising a number of features, operated by electricity and
having a wide range of functions, the court dismissed the contention.
It is trite
law that a computer hard disk was a single storage entity and was not just a
container of files.
therefore concluded that the power of inspection did extend to the inspection
of a computer.