Former Taxing Master to Challenge Lawfulness of Search Warrant
We act on behalf of solicitor Mr. Jim Flynn, the former High Court Taxing Master, in his application to quash a Search Warrant for the search and seizure of confidential documents from his law office.
On 4th March 2022, members of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau searched his law offices and removed a number of confidential documents including those relating to ongoing High Court proceedings against the Central Bank, in which An Garda Síochana was a named notice party. That case related to the Central Bank’s refusal to exchange a small sum of damaged bank notes (€4400) furnished by Mr. Flynn’s client in circumstances where a previous batch (€4950) which had been damaged in the same circumstances had already been exchanged by the Central Bank. Notwithstanding this, the Central Bank made a referral to An Garda Síochana under s.19 of the Criminal Justice Act 2011, which makes it a criminal offence to withhold information of material assistance in preventing an offence or securing the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of any other person for a relevant offence.
In seeking the Search Warrant, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau have alleged on oath that there were “reasonable grounds” for suspecting evidence of a money laundering offence i.e. “property that is the proceeds of criminal conduct” was to be found at Mr. Flynn’s Law Offices. The Search Warrant was issued in the broadest possible terms to permit the search and seizure of “anything” which An Garda Síochana believed to be “evidence of, or relating to, the commission of an arrestable offence”. In essence, this was broad enough to include every single file in Mr. Flynn’s office, and shatters the confidential lawyer/client privilege in every respect.
The Gardaí arrested Mr. Flynn during the search and brought him for questioning over a two day period, despite his previous engagement with the Gards on this issue and his willingness to provide information, but with the caveat that he has an overriding duty of confidentiality to his clients. KRW Law had previously advised the Gardaí that there was absolutely no basis for the interrogation of Mr. Flynn, particularly as the issues remained subject to extant litigation in the Superior Courts. Despite Mr. Flynn’s formal Written Statement and information provided to assist in their inquiries, Gardaí applied in secret for a Search Warrant for confidential files and this formed the premise to arrest and detain a respected member of the legal profession for two days.
KRW Law has now lodged judicial review proceedings on behalf of Mr. Flynn to quash the Search Warrant, to seek orders for the return of our client’s phone and the information on oath relied upon by the Gards to obtain the Search Order, and to bring a halt to a spurious investigation. We believe that information and material which would have undermined the basis of the warrant application was suppressed from the District Judge. Other less intrusive options, such as an application for a Production Order seeking access to the files, was not sought. Our client had no opportunity to query the legal basis for the warrant at the time it was sought, in violation of his right to due process.
To that end this case is on all fours with the recent case of two Belfast journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, both of whom were subject to similar unlawful search and arrest operations by the Durham Police and PSNI. Their cases resulted in an widely received vindication of the rights of journalist to protect their confidential sources.
The draconian decision for the application and issuance of a warrant to search the offices of a well-respected senior member of the profession points to an unholy alliance between the Central Bank and Gardaí, and raises serious questions in respect of ongoing legal proceedings involving those parties. The application for judicial review highlights investigative bias, exemplified by the selective failure to put exonerating material to Mr. Flynn during his interview.
We are confident that the High Court, given the opportunity to look objectively at all the material facts through the prism of the European Charter on Fundamental Rights and/or Bunreacht na hÉireann will make a fair deliberation. Given the threatened chilling effect on the independence of the legal profession of this type of wide-ranging warrant granting the Gards authority to raid an entire law office database of confidential files based on a spurious allegation of evidence of proceeds of crime, we have raised this case with Amnesty International and The President of the Law Society respectively.