In England and Wales, criminal investigation powers are made available through PACE and the Finance Act 2007 was amended to incorporate HMRC criminal investigations within PACE.
The advantage to HMRC of using PACE is that it provides a set of powers designed for use by law enforcement agencies (police etc.) This means that tax crime is tackled in the same way as other crime.
Not all the powers in PACE are available to HMRC. For example, HMRC cannot take fingerprints, charge or bail suspects. This has to be done by the police.
Some powers have been modified for use by HMRC. For example, a search warrant may allow HMRC to search individuals found on the premises, without the need for an arrest. This allows HMRC to search a bookkeeper who may have evidence in a briefcase or laptop when a company’s premises are searched, but who is not considered a suspect.
Cross border investigations
If evidence needs to be gathered in different parts of the UK, it is necessary to take account of the differences between the legal systems in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
HMRC’s criminal investigation powers can be exercised in all parts of the UK. For example, a search warrant issued by a court in Scotland can be exercised in England if it is endorsed by an English court and vice versa.
Cross border powers only apply to UK borders, not EU or international borders.
Intrusive Surveillance – RIPA powers
For cases of serious crime, HMRC can apply to use the intrusive powers in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
The most significant powers include:
- The interception of post and telecommunications
- Intrusive surveillance
- Property interference
These powers are utilised in the fight against serious and organised crime but because they are so intrusive their use is subject to strict safeguards and have to be approved at the highest levels. For example, the interception of communications has to be approved personally by the Home Secretary.