A recent High Court ruling has highlighted that seized cash cannot continue to be detained unless the authorities obtain a court order within the necessary timeframes.

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We specialise in criminal defence law and represent clients across England and Wales. If your assets have been seized as part of a criminal investigation, we can advise you further. Contact us now for a free initial enquiry. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The rules regarding the detention of seized cash

Once cash is seized, it can be held for up to 48 hours. If the authorities wish to detain the cash for longer, they must make an application to the court. The court will grant this request if:

  • The detention is justified while an investigation is conducted; or
  • The person from whom the cash was seized is prosecuted for an offence (or offences) relating to the cash; or
  • There are reasonable grounds to suspect the cash is intended for unlawful purposes

If the court grants an order, it will specify how long the cash can be detained. So, a court may say that the cash can be detained for six months. If the authorities are not ready to release the cash after six months (or whatever the order specifies), then they must make another application to the court. Crucially, this must be done before the original order expires. Otherwise, the court has no jurisdiction to order continued cash detention.

This is precisely what happened in the recent case of Mr Mann.

The facts of the case

HMRC seized £35,000 cash in plastic carrier bags from Mr Mann, as it was suspected he was fraudulently evading excise duty. Boxes of vodka worth around £220,000 were also found on the premises. HMRC then made an application for the detention of the cash. On 3rd October 2019, the order was granted for a period of six months.

Just under six months later, HMRC submitted an application to the court, requesting an order for further detention. However, a telephone hearing was not conducted until 28th April 2020, thanks in part to the national lockdown. The original order had expired over three weeks earlier on 3rd April 2020. The judge, therefore, rejected the application. The judge said that a court cannot order the continued detention of cash where the original order has expired. This applies, even though the application had been lodged in time.

HMRC took the case to the High Court, saying that the application had been received in time, even though the hearing had not. HMRC argued that the application should not be thwarted due to practicalities that meant the court could not hold a hearing within the time period. However, the High Court disagreed with HMRC. It said that a court hearing had to be held with at least seven days’ notice to the respondent for any further extension. The court had no power or jurisdiction to extend the time period once the order had expired.

Have your assets been seized?

This case just goes to show that the authorities cannot detain seized cash indefinitely, without the court’s permission. HMRC, the police and other UK authorities must adhere to the rules. If they fail to do so, the cash must be released.

If you have had cash seized as part of a criminal investigation, we can explain the rules in more detail. We can represent you throughout proceedings, advising whether to consent or oppose the continued detention of cash. If the authorities fail to make an application in time and try to re-seize the cash, we can argue abuse of process on your behalf.

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Do you need a criminal defence solicitor? Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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