The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 gives the police or HM Revenue and Customs the power to seize and then apply for the forfeiture of cash. Cash in the amount of £1,000 or more can be seized and retained if an officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the cash has been obtained through criminal conduct in the UK or elsewhere or if it is alleged that the cash is for use in future unlawful conduct.
The individual from whom the money is seized does not have to be arrested or even suspected of involvement in a particular crime.
Once the prosecution authority has seized the cash it can be retained for up to 48 hours (not including weekends and bank holidays) without a Court order. Usually before the 48 hours expire, the prosecuting authority will apply to the Magistrates Court for the continued detention of the cash. The Court will grant an extension of time to detain the cash if it is satisfied that the grounds set out by the prosecuting authority are reasonable.
Once the prosecuting authority has completed its enquiries it may either return the cash or it submits that it has sufficient evidence to establish that the cash or any part of it has been obtained through unlawful conduct or is intended for use in unlawful conduct then an application for forfeiture of the cash can be made.
Although the person from whom the cash has been seized can apply to the Court at any time for the return of the cash, there are costs implications in doing so. It is apparent from a case heard recently in the Court of Appeal that even in the event that an applicant is successful in applying for the seized cash to be returned, there are many obstacles to be overcome before that applicant has his or her legal costs to paid by the prosecution.
Hogan Brown has been involved in cash seizures of well over a million pounds. We have represented clients who have successfully applied for the return of the cash although not always accompanied by an order that the prosecuting authority pay our costs. For that reason, we can offer pragmatic advice to our clients as to whether the costs of applying for the return of the cash are outweighed by the legal costs.
Should you require advice in respect of cash seizure proceedings, please contact Michael Hogan or John Brown.