Can the Police Seize Assets?

Can the police seize assets?
Legally reviewed by: Laura Smith In: Corporate & Financial Crime

In the UK, law enforcement agencies wield power under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA). This allows them to seize assets they believe are linked to criminal activity. The practice has been used by the police to confiscate cash, property, and other valuable assets without the need for a criminal conviction.

Money and assets can be seized for up to two years. In some cases, the seized goods are permanently forfeited. This can happen if the authorities can successfully argue in court that the money and assets were proceeds of crime or were intended to be used for unlawful conduct.

Unfortunately, money and assets can be seized without an individual or organisation being found guilty of a criminal offence. In some unfortunate cases, the UK’s law enforcement agencies have abused their power to seize assets under the POCA. Critics argue that this creates a profit motive for police departments and undermines the principle of innocent

The first 48 hours after asset seizure is a critical time to secure the assets’ long-term protection. Therefore, if an individual or organisations assets have been seized it is important to get immediate legal advice.

Get in touch with our corporate, financial, and serious crime solicitors. 

When Can the Police Seize Assets?

Criminal Investigations

The police have the power to seize assets during criminal investigations. This can include seizing cash, vehicles, and other assets they believe to be related to suspected criminal activity.

When seizing assets for criminal investigations, the police must follow due process. This includes following laws such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

PACE is a UK law outlining the powers and duties of the police in the investigation of crime in court. PACE governs the extent of the police’s powers in stop and search, arrest, detention, and the collection and examination of evidence. It aims to balance the need for effective law enforcement with the protection of individual rights and freedoms

Asset Forfeiture

Asset Forfeiture is a legal process allowing authorities to confiscate property. They must believe the property to be the proceeds of crime or intended in illegal activities. An example of an Asset Forfeiture case would be where the police suspect that a person is using a property to store or distribute illegal drugs.  

The owner of the seized property must prove their innocence and the legitimate source or assets to retrieve them.

Probable Cause

The police cannot seize your assets solely based on probable cause. The standard for the seizure of assets is higher. It requires the authorities to successfully demonstrate a link between the assets and the proceeds of crime or intended use in criminal activities. Additionally, the burden of proof must be higher than for probable cause. The evidence will then be presented to the court who will decide whether to grant an order to seize the assets.

How Does Asset Seizure Work?

The police can seize assets when they have probable cause to believe that the assets are linked to illegal activity. This can be situations such as drug trafficking or money laundering. This is done through a court order or by obtaining a warrant from a judge. The standard of proof required for asset forfeiture is lower than the standard required for a criminal conviction, meaning that the police do not need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to seize assets.

What Types of Assets Can the Police Seize?

In the UK, law enforcement can seize various assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 for the purpose of Civil Asset Forfeiture. Assets that can be seized include:

  1. Cash: cash and other liquid assets such as bank accounts. This can be seized if it’s believed to have been procured through illegal means or intended for use in criminal activities.
  2. Property: Properties such as houses, land, and commercial building. Property can be seized if it’s suspected to be linked to criminal activity. Examples are if it’s suspected of being used for drug production or is a base for criminal operations.
  3. Vehicles: Cars, trucks, boats, and other vehicles. Vehicles can be seized if they are believed to have been used for the commission of a crime, or if they have been purchased with proceeds of crime.
  4. Valuables: Jewellery, luxury goods, art. Valuables can be seized if they are believed to have been purchased with the proceeds of crime.
  5. Business assets: Business assets, equipment, stock, intellectual property. These assets can be seized if they are believed to have been acquired through illegal means or intended for use in criminal activity.

This is not a full list and other types of assets may be seized. The police must follow the due process in the relevant laws such as POCA, when they seize assets.

How much money can be seized?

There is no upwards limit of how much money can be seized under the Act. However, the sum must be more than £1,000 which the law enforcement agency must suspect is proceeds of crime or will be used for criminal activity.

How long can the police seize cash and assets?

Law enforcement can detain assets for an initial period of 48 hours, excluding weekends and bank holidays. If the authority wishes to extend that period they must apply to the magistrate’s court, which can authorize detention up to six months.

Once the initial six-month period has expired, law enforcement can apply for another six-month extension. In total the assets can be detained for a sum of two years. When the two-year deadline is reached, the authority must return the assets, or apply to the court for permeant forfeiture.

Where are the seized assets stored?

The police must keep seized cash securely until the first application to court. After this, it should be banked as soon as possible unless required as further evidence. If the cash needs to be forensically examined, this must happen before the money is banked.

How Can I Retrieve Seized Assets?

Law enforcement agencies are obligated by law to inform anyone whose assets they have seized. They should keep all relevant parties informed about the time and place of any court application they may make for further cash detention. This must take place within 48 hours of the seizure. Anyone who has notice of this application may attend court and make representations.

After the first court application, relevant people should be notified in advance of any further court applications. This will usually occur in six-month intervals.

A person can get legal expertise to help them apply to the court for the return of the seized assets or cash at any point in the process. However, it is usually advised to wait for the law enforcement agency to conclude its investigation and make its application for forfeiture.

Anyone served with a forfeiture notice is obliged to respond, confirming that they oppose it. If no notice of opposition is received, the cash and assets may be automatically forfeited.

Can the Police Seize Assets in Serious Cases of Criminal Offences

In more serious criminal offence cases, if you are under investigation or already facing charges, the authorities can apply for one of the following:

Restraint Orders

A Restraint Order is a legal order granted by court in the UK, restricting the use or disposal of assets that are believed to be obtained through proceeds of crime or intended for use in future criminal activities. The purpose of a Restraint Order is to prevent the dissipation of assets that may be subject to forfeiture in later stages of the investigation or Proceeds of Crime Act proceedings.

Asset Freezing

In some situations, the authorities will apply for you to have your assets frozen under a Restraint Order. This includes having your bank account frozen.

In this situation, you will be unable to access your funds. You will be instead provided with a weekly allowance. Additionally, you will not be able to sell or deal with your assets, such as your property and/or vehicles.

Authorities also have the power to freeze your assets in foreign jurisdictions.

You will not usually receive notice that an application to freeze your assets has been made to court. Therefore, for the court to freeze your assets they must follow section 40(2) of the Proceeds of Crime Act: a criminal investigation has been launched and there is reasonable cause to believe that the alleged offender has benefited from his criminal conduct.

Unexplained Wealth Order

An Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) is a legal mechanism in the UK introduced under the Criminal Finances Act 2017. A UWO requires an individual to explain where their wealth came from if they are unable to show it was acquired legally.

A UWO can be applied, if an individual’s wealth is suspected to be disproportionate to their known sources of income. The individual must provide a full explanation of the origin of their wealth within a specified timeframe. A failure to do so, can result in their assets can being frozen and may be subject to forfeiture.

If one of the previous decisions has been made without authorities informing you, we can immediately apply to the court to have the order dismissed or varied.

Get Immediate Legal Advice if Your Assets Have Been Seized

At Cartwright King, our corporate, financial and serious crime solicitors can prepare and guide you through what can be a complex case, protecting the funds and assets of our clients.

Cartwright King has a wealth of experience resisting application for detention and forfeiture. Our solicitors are experts in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) which most asset seizure cases are dealt with under.

Our corporate, financial, and serious crime solicitors can help you negotiate with law enforcement to reach a compromise, without the need for a trial if possible.

In some cases, if the police have seized your assets, you may also be arrested, invited for an interview under caution, or have been charged with a criminal offence. Additionally, law enforcement may have taken further steps such as issuing an Account Freezing Order, a Restraint Order, or an Unexplained Wealth Order.

Cartwright King’s corporate, financial, and serious crime solicitors have a wealth of experience in cases of asset seizure. Our team works to ensure a result which prioritises the client’s goals, returning seized assets.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.