HL Deb 05 March 1968 vol 289 cc1224-6

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider advising magistrates that before issuing, on the sole basis of an anonymous telephone call, a warrant for searching a private house, a magistrate should satisfy himself that inquiries have already been made as to the character and police record of the householder concerned and the inherent probability of his being guilty of the alleged offences.]


My Lords, when deciding whether to issue warrants, magistrates act judicially and the Government have no power to instruct them as to how they are to exercise their judicial functions. I assume that the noble Lord's question refers to a recent case in which private premises were searched for drugs. In cases of this kind magistrates have statutory power to issue search warrants on being satisfied by an information on oath that there is reasonable ground for suspecting that drugs are on the premises. In this particular instance the information sworn by the police officer applying for the warrant had not disclosed that it was based on an anonymous message.


My Lords, would it not be a good thing if normally the police could disclose to the magistrate whether the information was based on an anonymous telephone call? If we are to accept the fact that magistrates have power to issue warrants on the basis of an anonymous telephone call, are we not opening a door for all the enemies of anybody to ring up the police and say that that person is hoarding drugs and his premises ought to be immediately searched?


My Lords, is it not customary, when police officers give evidence on oath, that they give evidence on oath of facts which are in their own experience and not derived at second hand?


My Lords, in this particular case the information on oath was that the officer had received information "from a source which I believe to be reliable". It would not, I think, have occurred to a magistrate that it was likely to be an anonymous telephone call.

So far as the police are concerned, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place has said that where there is anonymous telephone information the normal procedure is for inquiries to be made, and perhaps observation kept, in order to try to assess the reliability of information of this character. He added that he regretted that this procedure was not carried out, and the Commissioner has written to Lady Diana Cooper expressing his regrets. I understand that, in fact, on February 21 the local superintendent called on her, by appointment, to explain the circumstances of the search and to seek her assistance in tracing the anonymous caller. Then on February 23 the Deputy Commissioner called upon her and offered his apologies for the incident.


My Lords, I was not attempting to accuse the police of any dereliction of duty. My intention was to suggest that sometimes, perhaps, magistrates do not always act in accordance with what is the right procedure. I hope, therefore, that the Government will still manage, somehow or other, to advise the magistrates concerned of the necessities of this case.


My Lords, I must remind the noble Lord that the case is one in which the police did not follow the usual procedure, and the information which they swore and put before the magistrate, who I think is not to be blamed at all, was not in a form which could have led anyone to think that the information was simply an anonymous telephone call.