Having your business premises or home raided by a legal authority or regulatory body is intimidating and scary.
It is difficult (but not impossible) to prepare for a dawn raid as ‘surprise’ is the entire point of the exercise. But there are several things you can do if you suspect a dawn raid may be conducted and actions you can take while enforcement officers are on site to minimise the impact of the event.
Understanding Dawn Raids in Business Crime Investigations
If an authority such as HMRC, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), or the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) (to name but a few) suspect you or your business has broken the law or breached regulations, they can turn up unannounced and search your workplace.
The aim of a dawn raid is to seize documents and other evidence to use in a legal or regulatory investigation.
Is a warrant needed to conduct a dawn raid?
Yes, the authority undertaking the dawn raid must have a valid warrant which states:
- The premises in which the raid is being conducted.
- The names of those authorised to enter the premises.
- The procedure rules that apply when conducting the raid.
- The scope of the raiding authority’s powers.
Upon entering the premises, the investigation team must present the warrant and explain the remit for the raid.
What can I do to prepare for a dawn raid?
Although the purpose of a dawn raid is to surprise the recipient, if the authority has asked you to provide information or you have been tipped off that a raid may take place, you can prepare for such an eventuality.
The first thing you must do is have key people in place (known as shadowers or the dawn raid response team) to greet the inspection team. They are responsible for following inspectors as they conduct their search, taking notes concerning what evidence is being examined and removed.
Appoint a team leader. Ideally this should be an in-house or external Counsel experienced in business crime and regulatory investigations. The rest of the team should comprise of a senior manager, someone from IT (as the authority will want to access computer files), your compliance officer, and someone from your internal communications department (for example a HR or Marketing Director).
The dawn raid response team needs to undergo training to ensure each person knows what they are accountable for, how to deal with the inspection team, and when to escalate matters.
Remember to include your reception staff in your training programme. They are the first people likely to encounter the inspection team and therefore must be prepared so they do not panic. Reception staff should know to take the inspection team quietly into a room away from customers and other employees. They should then immediately contact the dawn raid team leader or a senior manager who can check the warrant.
Can I delay the inspection team until my Solicitor arrives?
If your dawn raid team leader is an external Solicitor, you can politely ask the inspection team to suspend their remit until your Solicitor arrives. However, they are not legally required to delay as most warrants are only valid for a short duration. If your legal team is enroute to your premises, a member of the inspection team may consent to speaking to them on the phone. If the inspection team start their search before your legal team arrives, your shadowers can begin to take notes but they must fully cooperate with the team and not prevent them from carrying out their remit.
Can I destroy or delete documents/files whilst the inspection team is conducting a dawn raid?
No, any routine destruction of documents must be immediately halted. Alert employees to the presence of inspectors and ensure they understand that no files or documents should be deleted or destroyed during or after the raid. Doing so could amount to a criminal offence.
Can inspectors talk to employees during a dawn raid?
Yes, inspectors can and will talk to various staff members about their role and ask practical questions on the location of documents and certain processes and procedures. However, they cannot interview or interrogate employees and one of your legal team’s tasks is to ensure investigators do not exceed the scope of their powers.
How long does a dawn raid last?
Depending on the size of your organisation, a dawn raid can last anywhere up to three days. Upon leaving the premises, the inspection team may place seals over doors, computers, and perhaps even the entire premises. Breaking these seals, even inadvertently, may be classed as a criminal act. In the past, companies found guilty of such an offence have been fined millions of pounds.
What is the role of a Solicitor in a dawn raid?
Your Solicitor and their team have several key responsibilities during a dawn raid, including:
- Checking and making notes of the warrant and inspection remit.
- Noting and taking copies of all requested documents/files.
- Cross-checking the requested documents/files against the terms of the warrant.
- Checking whether any requested documents/files are legally privileged. If there is a dispute about whether privilege applies, Counsel will ask for the documents to be placed in a sealed envelope until the matter is resolved.
- Being present when employees are questioned and noting down everything that is said in the meeting.
- Advising on what to do after the raid is over and the inspection team has left.
Preparing for a dawn raid in advance can help ensure none of your employees panic and you can exert some control over the situation. What matters most is having an experienced legal team advising and representing you to ensure the investigative team act lawfully and within the scope of their powers, and that the best interests of you and your organisation are protected.
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