Regina v Uxbridge Justices, ex parte Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis: CA 1981

The applicant was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for handling stolen currency notes from travellers at an airport. The police retained cash from his house, which he claimed. He applied for its return. The police not having opposed the application, now sought judicial review of the award of his costs.
Held: Lord Denning would have held that the justices had no jurisdiction to award costs, but Sir George Baker and Sir Stanley Rees disagreed.
Lord Denning MR said: ‘I must say that I am most surprised by the order of the justices. The police had done nothing wrong at all. They had taken possession of these currency notes – absolutely properly – because they were reasonably suspected by them to have been stolen. They retained them pending trial equally properly. They were absolutely right not to deliver them without a court order. If they had given them up to Mr. Prasad and the true owners had turned up afterwards, the police would have been liable in damages to the true owners. Only by a court order would they be protected. Viewed in the eyes of the civil law, the police were bailees of the goods. Their custody was like that of a sheriff – custodia legis. Faced with a claimant, the sheriff is entitled to inter-plead and to get his costs as a first charge so long as he acts properly, but he is never bound to pay any costs. So also when the police have goods in custodia legis, and act perfectly properly in regard to them, they should not be ordered to pay costs.’
Sir Stanley Rees said: ‘The proceedings before us do not include any issue or argument as to the propriety of the exercise of the discretion of the justices to make the order for costs which they did in favour of the complainant. Nevertheless, I share the considerable degree of unease in regard to the order for costs which is evident in the judgments delivered by Lord Denning M.R. in this court and in the judgments delivered in the Divisional Court by Donaldson L.J. and Kilner Brown J. [1981] 1 W.L.R. 112. If, as I am satisfied is the case, the justices are empowered to make an order for costs in proceedings by complaint and summons under the Police (Property) Act 1897 where there is a complainant and a defendant, their discretion must be exercised having regard to the exceptional and perhaps unique nature of the order sought and to the respective roles of the parties concerned. In a case in which the police have clearly indicated that they do not oppose the making of the order sought and are merely attending before the justices to confirm their attitude and to ensure that an appropriate order is made before the property is delivered to the complainant, it would indeed be difficult to justify any order for costs against the police. Even in a case in which the police do not consent to the order sought by the claimant or claimants but attend the hearing and the justices are satisfied that it was reasonable for them to do so in order to assist the court to assess the validity of the claim or claims made to the ownership of the property, it would be proper for no order for costs to be made against the police, even if the order for delivery of the property sought by a claimant were made. In short, in my judgment, the proper approach to an application for costs in such proceedings should most certainly not be on the basis that costs should simply follow the event, but rather that the discretion to award them should be sparingly exercised, having regard to the exceptional nature of the role of the police as custodians of the property in issue, who require an order of the court to protect them before the delivery up of the property to a claimant.’
Sir George Baker said: ‘I have had the advantage of reading the judgment about to be delivered by Sir Stanley Rees and wish to say that I entirely agree with him about the undesirability of justices making orders for costs in cases like the present.’


Lord Denning MR, Sir George Baker and Sir Stanley Rees


[1981] 1 QB 829


Police (Property) Act 1897 1(1)


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedPerinpanathan, Regina (on The Application of) v City of Westminster Magistrates Court and Another CA 4-Feb-2010
The appellant’s daughter had been stopped entering the country with andpound;150,000 in cash. The police sought an order for its forfeiture, suspecting a link with terrorism. The magistrates found no evidence of such, and declined to make the order, . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Police, Magistrates, Costs

Updated: 07 October 2022; Ref: scu.401965