I have been in general frustrated by the lack of easily available documentation surrounding the 1760 Writs of Assistance, and the Writs of Assistance as they appear today in UK legislation, as pointed out below. Readily available is the following:

  • They were general search warrants issued to combat smuggling
  • No standard of probable cause was necessary
  • James Otis didn't like them ("It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law book.") and gave up his government position to fight them in court
  • He failed legally, but his five-hour oration was the moment when "Child Independence was born," according to the riveted John Adams.
  • Today, with small alterations, the Writs are alive and well in the UK.

All of these general statements are fine and helpful, but I can't find out things like:

  • Approximately how many times the writs were invoked to search private property
  • Any actual examples of the writs being used, in the 18th century or today.
  • 3
    Not 1760, but writs of assistance still exist in the UK (for example see section 161 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 - these powers were apparently used 172 times from April 2010 to March 2011)
    – Henry
    Nov 2 '18 at 8:48
  • 2
    @Henry That's actually shocking to me -- looking quickly over to Wikipedia, I can see that they're definitely still a thing, but, once again, the internet only seems interested in the historical Writs and how they related to the American Colonies. I would actually love to expand the scope of my question...! Nov 2 '18 at 15:49
  • 4
    @GeneralNuisance - have not found an answer to your Question yet, but I found this interesting lecture from a Yale professor which has some insights on the writs of assistance you may find useful, especially see pp 77-80. The writs may not have been as significant a problem as they are made out to be.
    – Kerry L
    Nov 2 '18 at 15:51
  • 5
    UK National Archives Reference: T 1/501/173-186 & 261-265 & 270-311 'NORTH AMERICA: Customs: Commissioners of Customs (American colonies): Notification of applications for writs of assistants made by Customs officers to their respective Supreme Courts with copies' Nov 2 '18 at 16:23

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