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Police Powers of Seizure Guide

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Most people are aware that the police have certain powers to seize belongings as part of an investigation. However, not everyone is aware of what these powers actually involve and when the police are allowed to exercise them.

We discuss police powers of seizure in detail in the following article, including how far these powers extend, why the police would seize your belongings and what is likely to happen after a seizure takes place.

While we hope this information is useful, please note that it should not be taken as legal advice. If you need legal support with police powers of seizure, then please get in touch and our team can advise you.

What are the police powers of seizure?

Several pieces of legislation allow the police to seize personal property.

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)

Under Section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) a police officer who is lawfully on the premises can seize property, provided they have the reasonable belief that:

  • property has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence, and
  • it is necessary to seize property to prevent it from being concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed.

Under Section 19 of PACE, a police officer can also seize property if they believe that:

  • property is evidence in relation to an offence which they are investigating (or any other offence); and
  • it is necessary to seize property to prevent it from being concealed, lost, damaged, altered or destroyed.

Further, Section 19 of PACE allows a police officer who is lawfully on the premises to require any information which is contained in a computer and accessible from the premises to be produced in a form in which it can be taken away and read, so long as they have reasonable grounds for believing that:

  • the information is evidence relating to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence and it is necessary to do so to prevent it being concealed, lost, tampered with, or destroyed; or
  • the information has been obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence; and it is necessary to do so to prevent it being concealed, lost, tampered with, or destroyed.

Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA)

Section 352 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) allows a judge to issue a search and seizure warrant to a police officer in the event that a person is:

  • subject to a confiscation investigation;
  • subject to a money laundering investigation; or
  • subject to a civil recovery investigation.

That warrant allows the police to seize any material which is considered to be of substantial value to the investigation. This means that the police could seize anything they believe to be related to the commission or proceeds of crime.

Section 294 of POCA refers specifically to the seizure of cash. This provision allows officers to seize cash if they have reasonable grounds to believe that it is ‘recoverable’ property or it is intended to be used in unlawful conduct. They can only hold this cash for 48 hours, after which they must obtain permission from the magistrate to hold it for longer.

Are there restrictions on what the police can seize?

Yes, certain items are protected from police seizure even where they fulfil the legislative criteria under PACE or POCA.

For example, items subject to legal privilege may not be seized as legally privileged material is protected from seizure by section 19(6) of PACE and section 354 of POCA. Legally privileged material includes communications between a professional legal advisor and his client in respect of legal advice or proceedings.

Why would the police seize a vehicle?

In the case of vehicles, the police could see fit to issue a seizure if:

  • a vehicle is being used in a way that causes alarm, harassment, or distress;
  • the driver of a vehicle is being careless or inconsiderate;
  • the driver of a vehicle does not have the appropriate licence and/or insurance;
  • the vehicle is being used in a crime, or is intended to be used in a crime; or
  • the vehicle is the proceeds of crime or has been obtained via the proceeds of crime.

Can the police seize mobile phones?

Yes, the police can seize a mobile phone if they have reasonable grounds to believe that it is evidence that relates to an offence.

If the police seize a mobile phone, they are likely to try and access the information stored within. You do not have to unlock a mobile phone for the police, though they may use legal search powers to gain access.

For example, the police may choose to use Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (often referred to as RIPA). This makes it an offence to refuse to provide access to your phone and you could be arrested and prosecuted.

The police could also access a phone without a password, for example by accessing data that is stored remotely.

What other belongings can the police seize?

In addition to mobile phones and vehicles, police powers of seizure can also extend to any ‘luxury’ items, such as clothing, jewellery and watches. Even if these items have been obtained legally, the police may have reason to believe that they have been obtained through crime due to their high monetary value, especially where other aspects of your lifestyle may not line up.

The police may also be able to seize:

  • animals;
  • property;
  • business assets;
  • alcohol;
  • fireworks;
  • items that can be used as a weapon.

Will the police seize anything they can?

No, the police will not necessarily seize anything they have the power to. An officer may decide it is not appropriate to seize property because of an explanation from the person holding it, but may nevertheless have reasonable grounds for believing it was obtained in consequence of an offence by some person.

In these circumstances, the officer should identify the property to the holder, inform the holder of their suspicions and explain that the holder may be liable to civil or criminal proceedings if they dispose of, alter or destroy the property. The officer may photograph the article or seize any documents pertaining to the article.

A good example of a situation in which this may occur is where a pawnbroker has unwittingly received stolen goods.

What are your rights when the police seize your property?

When the police seize property, the owner has a right to be provided with a list or description of the property within a reasonable time.

The owner can also have supervised access to the property, can photograph it or copy it, or be given a photograph or copy within a reasonable time of any request and at their expense. However, these rights can be refused if the officer believes that this would prejudice the investigation of any offence or criminal proceedings, or lead to the commission of an offence by providing access to unlawful material such as pornography. If access is refused, a record should be made of this refusal.

Are you concerned about your property being seized?

The prospect of your personal belongings being seized by the police can be understandably distressing. It is important that you understand both your rights and what powers the police have if they suspect you of committing a criminal offence. In these types of situations, having the support and representation of our expert criminal defence solicitors is key.

At J D Spicer Zeb, our criminal defence solicitors have over 45 years of experience in handling a wide range of cases. This means we have plenty of familiarity with the powers the police have when it comes to seizing property and what this is likely to mean for the way your case progresses.

Whatever our situation may be and what offence you are under investigation for, we will be in a strong position to provide tailored advice that helps you to secure the best possible outcome, whether that means having charges dropped or having a sentence lowered if conviction is unavoidable.

We are highly skilled at dealing with all forms of evidence, including any of your belongings which may have been seized by the police. That means that we have the skills to establish a compelling argument, identify any flaws in the case against you and ensure that any evidence that supports your position is clearly identified.

We have been accredited by the Law Society for Criminal Litigation. This, coupled with our extensive experience, means that we can demonstrate a strong track record of previous success, which has also allowed us to establish strong relationships with many of the country’s leading criminal defence barristers.

If you are concerned about the prospect of your property being seized and criminal charges, we are here to provide you with the support you need.

Related matters:

We also provide support and guidance on various related matters, including:

Fees and funding

When you work with our team, we will always be open and transparent about the costs involved.

If you need to attend court, Legal Aid funding may become available. Whether this is possible will depend on whether the grant of public funding is justified.

Where you do not qualify for Legal Aid, the alternative will be to fund the case on a private basis.          

To find out more about the way we handle fees (both Legal Aid and private fees), please use the links provided below:

Contact our criminal defence lawyers today

If you are due to attend the police station, require any urgent specialist advice, or immediate representation, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you quickly.

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Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

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We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

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We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

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Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

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