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Proving malice

Alan Murdie explains why claims for malicious procurement of a search warrant are difficult to substantiate

19 December 2003

The need for a police officer to obtain a warrant from a magistrate to search a private home is an essential safeguard for the citizen against oppressive searches. To justify the issue of a warrant to enter and search a private home, s 8 of PACE and s 26 of the Theft Act 1968 variously provide that there must exist ‘reasonable grounds’ or ‘reasonable cause’. However, the judgment in Keegan v Chief Constable of Merseyside [2003] 1 WLR 2197 shows that in practice it may be the police who benefit most when acting under warrant, by continuing to enjoy virtual immunity from civil action even where reasonable cause for the search is objectively lacking. Despite an expressed sympathy for the claimant in Keegan, the Court of Appeal rejected claims for malicious procurement of a search warrant and trespass against an innocent family who suffered a frightening early-morning raid by armed police. The police remained protected from civil action despite evidence of what ...

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