POLICE have put a stop to Independent Commission Against Corruption agents snooping around government offices during their investigations. The graft-busters must now say exactly what material they want, rather than being allowed to fish for anything incriminating. ICAC agents were previously able to carry out wide-ranging searches for papers in civil servants' offices. The ICAC has had to accept the Legal Department judgment, which more strictly defines how to obtain leads and behave in corruption cases. Lawyers had been ordered to intervene in the simmering inter-agency dispute. It is understood the ICAC is now preparing a code of practice to govern agents' conduct in future raids. Investigators will need the approval of a senior ICAC officer - no lower than assistant director rank - before searching premises. But the ICAC still will not need a warrant to enter government premises. 'There is to be a specific document. It will need to be vetted. It will have to list the nature of the exhibits,' said a Legal Department source. 'It will definitely need to make sure the raids are not to be a sort of fishing expedition. It is a lot about continuing to make the ICAC more accountable.' ICAC head of operations, Jim Buckle, denied the new procedures would curtail the commission's powers. Mr Buckle said the changes followed what he termed 'an entirely reasonable' request from police. It called into question an ICAC investigator's ability to have the power to collect information delegated, via a statement on the back of a warrant card. 'It will tighten the screw, perhaps half a turn,' he said yesterday. 'I don't see it as a problem and I don't think there has been bad relations while this has been developed.' For the past 21 years, the ICAC has used powers under section 13 of the ICAC Ordinance to enable investigators to remove papers. But officially, this is a power only given to the Commissioner. Police directly challenged the powers last year but the policy shift will apply to all government departments. Police chiefs said corruption raids in the New Territories - in which so-called 'blanket' searches were held - were legally flawed, offensive to relations and excessive. Their objections were based on a recent British Court of Appeal decision. It related to the wisdom of a law enforcement agency being able to surrender documents to another crime-fighting body, and the requirement to keep such papers confidential. Police suggested ICAC officers should not operate so freely. Two incidents particularly irritated police - a raid in March at Tai Po in which a senior officer tried to refuse the forfeiting of a witness statement, and arrests in Yuen Long in October, in which the District Commander was apparently not forewarned of the arrest of an inspector and two constables.