The claimants sought return of vehicle parts from the police. The police replied that the goods had been tampered with in such a way as to suggest they may have been stolen, and that they were therefore kept, even after the finish of the court procedings against the claimants, to ascertain their ownership under the 1984 Act.
Held: The police had no authority to retain the goods once detention for criminal proceedings was unnecessary. Public policy reasons were insufficient to justify continued detention.
Park J referred to Lyons, and said: ‘First, I assume that in practice the regular use of the 1897 Act is for the straightforward and simple cases which Lord Widgery had in mind, and that it is rare for the ways in which the magistrates deal with applications under the Act to give rise to appeals . . I think [it], obvious that the police must use the Act frequently to deal with matters where they find themselves in possession of items of property which they do not want to keep but do not know whether they can legitimately destroy them or what else they can do with them. In such cases the police will understandably wish to have the protection of a court order before destroying or otherwise disposing of the goods. Second, although the magistrates’ powers do extend to making orders which can affect possessory or ownership rights, I do not think that it is a main purpose of the Act that it should be used in order definitively to resolve issues of that nature. It is noteworthy that s.1(2) provides that an order under s.1(1) does not affect the right of any person to take (within six months) legal proceedings against any person in possession of property delivered by virtue of the s1(1) order. Such proceedings would, I take it, be brought in the civil courts, not in the Magistrates Court which made the order.’
and ‘in my opinion, despite the use of the word ‘may’ in the Police (Property) Act and despite the feature that the Act refers to ownership rather than to possession, it would not be a proper exercise of discretion by the magistrates to refuse to order a return of property to the only known person who is admittedly entitled to possession of it at common law.’
Lord Justice Potter said: ‘We are bound by the decisions of this court in Webb and Costello (in which the decision in Jackson does not appear to have been cited or considered). Nonetheless, I find it inherently rebarbative that, by means of civil proceedings in detinue based on the superior possessory title of the claimant over property held by the police following seizure in the course of investigating a suspected offence, a person may be held entitled to recover and continue to enjoy property even though the court may be satisfied that he is not the true owner and has acquired the property illegally, albeit the true owner is not identifiable. It seems to me that the terms of the 1897 Act are such that, in those circumstances, magistrates may well not be obliged to make an order in favour of such a claimant and in that respect the decision of Maurice Kay J in ex P. Carter may need revisiting should a case arise where the issue is a live one.’
The Hon Mr Justice Park Lord Justice Potter Lord Justice Carnwath
 EWCA Civ 206, Times 04-Mar-2004
England and Wales
Cited – Webb v Chief Constable of Merseyside Police CA 26-Nov-1999
The Police had confiscated money suspected to be the proceeds of drug trafficking, but no offence was proved. The magistrates had refused to return the money under the 1897 Act. The claimants now sought to reciver it under civil proceedings.
Cited – Costello v Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary CA 22-Mar-2001
The police seized a car from Mr Costello, believing that it was stolen. The seizure was lawful at the time, by virtue of section 19 of PACE. The police never brought any criminal proceedings against Mr Costello, but they refused to return the car to . .
Cited – Chief Constable of West Midlands Police v White CA 13-Mar-1992
After conviction for licensing offences, the police seized a sum of money from the respondent which they alleged was the proceeds of unlicensed sales. The magistrates made no order on conviction, so the police brought the issue under the Act. The . .
Cited – Raymond Lyons and Co Ltd v Metropolitan Police Commissioner QBD 1975
A suspected thief had left a valuable ring with the claimant jewellers for valuation. They reported the matter to the police and handed the ring to them. The suspected thief never reappeared, and no-one claiming to be the true owner emerged. The . .
Cited – Jackson v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police QBD 22-Oct-1993
Mr Jackson was convicted of a drugs offence. On arrest, the police had seized money in his possession. No order as to the money was made at the trial. Mr Jackson applied under the Act. The magistrate accepted that Mr Jackson was the owner of the . .
Cited – Regina v Quinn CACD 15-Mar-1994
Police must follow the published Code of Practice, when conducting identity parades, and may not substitute their own. If the evidence is allowed in despite the breach, the judge should explain the significance of the breach to the jury, as it may . .
Cited – Settelen and Another v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis ChD 29-Sep-2004
The claimants had made application for tapes held by the respondent to be released. The claimant offered undertakings as to their preservation, and agreement had been reached. The outstanding issue was as to costs. The tapes were recorded by the . .
Cited – Scopelight Ltd and Others v Chief of Police for Northumbria CA 5-Nov-2009
The claimant sought return of items removed by the defendants under the 1984 Act. A decision had been made against a prosecution by the police. The police wished to hold onto the items to allow a decision from the second defendant.
Held: The . .
Cited – O’Leary International Ltd v North Wales Police Admn 31-May-2012
The company employed drivers to cross the UK. They were stopped and did not have the requisite drivers records. Instead they produced certificates as to having had rest days. These proved false, and the drivers said that the had been produced for . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 10 June 2022; Ref: scu.194098