Search and Seizure Orders – 5 things to be aware of before choosing a Supervising Solicitor.
The purpose of this guide is to explain the role of the independent supervising solicitor and the key aspects to look at when choosing the right person for the job.
I am going to give you some free top tips based on my 25 odd years’ experience, what you need to look out for, the pitfalls and what can go wrong on the day.
What is the role of an independent supervising solicitor?
In short, the supervising solicitor is an independent officer of the court and must also be independent of both the applicant, respondent, and their respective solicitors. As an officer of the court, the supervising solicitors job, as the name suggests, is to independently supervise and ensure that the search order is properly executed.
The moment the search order has been served on the respondent; the supervising solicitor’s job is to explain the order in everyday language to the respondent so that they understand what it means in practical terms. The exact wording of the search and seizure orders will differ but generally the respondent must be advised of:
- Their right to obtain legal advice.
- Their right to apply to vary or discharge the order; and
- The fact that they may be entitled to claim legal professional privilege or privilege against self-incrimination.
Once you read this guide, I invite you to apply for a complimentary no-cost “independent supervising solicitor consultation” with me to discover how I can use my experience to make sure that the court order is executed smoothly and in accordance with the terms of the order.
Wishing you every success.
Solicitor and Partner.
Summit Law LLP.
TIP 1: Do not make the mistake of thinking you can read the Order on the way to the subject premises-be prepared!
This reminds me of the military adage, the 6P’s: proper planning and preparation prevents poor performance. A great deal of time and expense is invested in the court application process by the Provisional Liquidator and the evidence seized could help uncover millions of pounds worth of assets, whether through a provisional liquidation or otherwise. Accordingly, it’s paramount to invest time getting your ducks in a row.
Any supervising solicitor worth their salt must be familiar with the terms of the order as there certainly won’t be time to read the order on the job. An order and the appendices, which have been carefully crafted by the applicant provisional liquidator, their solicitors and counsel, could be 20 pages long.
So, when you have been up at the crack of dawn to travel to the premises, that is not the time to start reading through the detail of the order.
The reason for this is that in my experience things can happen very quickly. One never knows what will happen on an early morning ‘raid’. Some respondent directors will be in shock, others sensible and compliant, whilst other directors may overreact and panic. If you are ill prepared and have not absorbed the dos and don’ts of the court order you may find yourself becoming overwhelmed by what’s happening on the ground and this is when mistakes are likely to happen.
Having supervised the execution of numerous search and seizure orders at Summit Law we understand the importance of being familiar with the terms of the order so that we can quickly defuse volatile situations in a professional manner. This naturally assists with the administration of justice ensuring that provisional liquidators are able to extract and safeguard key evidence in a cost effective and efficient way.
The last thing you want to see happen is for the seizure order to be declared invalid and open to criticism from the court or the respondent director’s lawyers, and the evidence seized ruled inadmissible. Another point on the preparation front is to ensure that the provisional liquidator has a list of the company’s mobile phones to avoid any arguments on the day as to whether or not they are company property. Have a list of the numbers to hand and any phone bills addressed to the company.
If things go wrong and the search and seizure order is wrongly executed, just think of the costs thrown away, of the lawyers’, their agents and of course not to mention the creditors time such as HMRC.
Preparation also means being familiar with the technical side of knowing the relevant rules. Search orders are often prepared on short notice and therefore cannot reasonably be expected to cover every prospect which arises on the day of the search.
Disputes can arise between parties on the day of the search in respect of the scope of the order which cannot be resolved save with a determination from the court. Part of the supervising solicitor’s role is to ensure that the search is limited to the specific documents and parameters in the order.
They must prevent any unauthorised search beyond the scope of the order. Should a dispute arise, the supervising solicitor, can exercise reasonable limited discretion in relation to the execution of the search pursuant to CPR PD 25A.7.5(13) or may refer such issues to the court for resolution taking any items which form the basis of the dispute into safekeeping in the absence of an agreement between the parties.
From the outset, it is crucial to ensure that the supervising solicitor you instruct has the required expertise in these situations and who has prepared thoroughly through meetings with colleagues and the lawyers concerned to try and manage the risk of things going wrong on the big day.
TIP 2: Expertise and good communication skills with the respondent director.
There is no real science behind the latter, and I’m certainly not a psychologist but knowing how to deal with a director and how to read them can be highly advantageous. The respondent directors may not have a good command of English or understand the terms of the order, so it’s very important to remain patient and explain the order in detail. If you don’t, you will certainly not be doing your job properly and it may mean that vital evidence is not seized.
By way of example on one occasion, a director refused to hand over his company mobile phone to the provisional liquidator’s agents. I decided to take the director aside and have a private conversation where we were not overheard to hear his objection to delivering up the company’s mobile phone. It turned out on this particular occasion that he had private photographs which he did not wish to share. My advice to the director was that under the terms of the order the phone had to be delivered up to the provisional liquidator. The director did not like the advice but I explained the consequences of breaching the order, including the penal notice and what was meant by contempt of court.
The best solution I have always found it is to obviously treat the respondents with the utmost respect, keep calm and explain the order in terms they will understand and to emphasise that as an officer of the court I am neutral and not working for the provisional liquidator.
TIP 3: Ensure you have colleagues on hand who have previous experience.
Trying to learn on the job when supervising a search and seizure order is extremely difficult. This is because there are too many moving parts. It’s not uncommon, to have a small team of process servers barging through the company premise’s front door weighed down with boxes of evidence, with receptionists and other staff from the respondent company startled, all wondering what on earth is going on.
Then there is the company director to deal with who as I say, might be in shock, compliant or react aggressively.
Accordingly, it’s vital to have well trained and experienced colleagues who know how to handle the situation who have all learned from previous searches.
That’s why at Summit Law we will sit down together before the date of the execution and talk through the terms of the order and discuss what the order does and does not permit. We even rehearse what might happen on the day and we ask ourselves what could go wrong on the big day of the search.
By way of example, on one occasion I was supervising the execution of the order part of which included the seizure of various mobile phones on business premises. An argument broke out between the company staff and provisional liquidator’s agents.
I had been in another part of the five storey business premises watching a server being digitally copied and analysed, but fortunately an experienced Summit Law colleague was able to calm the situation down with the company staff, until I was able to join him to explain the order to the employees.
If you turn up with colleagues with no prior experience it is more likely that if things go wrong, they will not be able to react in the correct manner.
Tip 4: Be ready for the unexpected.
Risk management is all about trying to reduce the threats of things going wrong. Of course, notwithstanding the former sometimes with all the planning in the world, the unexpected can happen.
With all of the time and expense invested in the application for the search and seizure order it’s important to have an experienced supervising solicitor and their team who are able to deal with the unexpected.
On one particular search and seizure case, where I was acting as the independent supervising solicitor, there were numerous members of the provisional liquidator team. These consisted of lawyers, process servers, security, and digital computer experts. The group probably consisted of 20 or so people which meant that we had to travel separately in our vehicles to the company’s premises in a busy high street with no parking.
Whilst I was parking and unbeknown to me it came to my attention that one of the provisional liquidators team was extremely keen to start seizing evidence and was going to do so before I had even arrived at the premises and read the order to the respondent director. Obviously it would have meant that I was not supervising the gathering of the evidence or available to deal with any queries from the director about the terms of the order. The impact of the latter could again have been extremely costly.
Do not assume that a provisional liquidator’s team will understand your role. Talk them through what is going to happen, paint a picture for them so they can visualise the steps that will be taken on the day.
Tip 5: keep detailed and contemporaneous notes.
A key aspect of the supervising solicitor’s role is advising the respondent in respect of the terms and effect of the search and seizure order including any rights they have pursuant to the latter. How this information is communicated is crucial and the respondent must be advised in plain English.
Attention to detail
Under CPR Practice Direction 25A, the supervising solicitor also has a vital role in precisely recording events on the day of the search by way of a report filed at court shortly after the search.
The supervising solicitor’s report sets out compliance with his/her duties but can also be a crucial document for either party following the search should a dispute arise in respect of compliance with the order. Supervising solicitors must also ensure compliance with their other technical duties such as compiling a list of materials removed from the premises and allowing the respondent to check the list and have a copy of the same.
What happens after a search has taken place?
After the search and seizure, the supervising solicitor will submit their report to the court before a second hearing takes place, which both the applicant and the respondent will attend. The Respondent can address the court and ask that the search order be discharged. In either event, the matter will then proceed to trial following the usual course.
It’s Time to Take Action!
If you are planning to seek a search and seizure order it’s important to plan ahead to make sure that your chosen supervising solicitor is available. To do this please call us on (020) 7467 3980 to make an appointment or email me on email@example.com
About the author
Jeremy Boyle L.L.B (Hons) is a solicitor and partner and an expert in insolvency law who specialises in insolvency litigation. He has acted as an independent supervising solicitor on numerous occasions. Jeremy has also acted for and advised the UK’s most experienced and largest firms of insolvency practitioners when they pursue directors. Jeremy is regularly asked to write articles for leading publications and to provide talks on insolvency related matters.
So why should I instruct you and not another solicitor? What’s in it for me if we hire you?
Summit Law are insolvency litigation specialists; we have a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw on.
What others say about us?
“I was appointed as the provisional liquidator and Jeremy Boyle was the independent supervising solicitor, appointed by order of the court. We had a very early start but under Jeremy’s expert supervision, the search and seizure was handled professionally throughout. It certainly took a lot of pressure out of the situation on the day.”
“Jeremy Boyle was the independent supervising solicitor on a provisional liquidation I worked on. Jeremy was extremely professional, calm and collected in supervising the order and in dealing with the director” Head of Investigations.”
“Jeremy Boyle and the team at Summit Law has been completely supportive and helped us to navigate a very negative 9-month legal problem. Their attention to detail and common-sense approach to tackling heated legal questions with a cool perspective, ultimately saved us 100,000’s! They cared enough when our chips were down to help us get out of a bad deal…thank you Summit Law!”
“I first contacted Summit Law LLP late on a Friday morning. At the start of a bank holiday weekend. I had received by email that morning an instruction that a court hearing had been made related to an issue that I was involved with. After preliminary discussions with Jeremy Boyle (Senior Partner) about the case I decided to instruct Summit Law to represent my interests at the court hearing. In effect this only gave us 1 full working day to prepare our submissions, appoint council and be prepared. The Summit team were super-efficient and kept me up to speed on all aspects of the case. The barrister selected was professional and efficient. Our challenge to the hearing was successful and we were awarded costs. This was an important decision that we were obliged to fight at very short notice. Without the commitment of the whole team at Summit Law LLP I am sure the outcome of the copyist proceeding would have been vastly different. Their attention to detail, professionalism, speed of action and importantly communication was exemplary. Thanks to all concerned.”