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How to: Confiscation of your vehicle under the Criminal Justice Act 1985

Introduction

Under the CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT 1985 the court may order the confiscation of your motor if you have been convicted of certain offences and the vehicle was used in committing the offence. This is in addition to any other sentence or order.

The power to confiscate applies whether you own the vehicle (solely or jointly) or merely have an interest in it (for example, under a hire-purchase or lease agreement).

What offences does this apply to?

For the court to have this power, the offence must have been:

  • one punishable by imprisonment for 12 months or more, or by life, or
  • one of certain offences under the LAND TRANSPORT ACT 1998 involving: careless use of a vehicle causing injury or death; reckless or dangerous driving; and alcohol- or drug-affected driving

The court must be satisfied:

  • that the vehicle was being used to commit or facilitate the offence, or to facilitate you escaping or avoiding being arrested or detained, whether or not you were the driver or the person in charge of the vehicle, or
  • if the offence was one of those under the LAND TRANSPORT ACT 1998, that the vehicle was being driven by you or was in your charge at the relevant time

What factors does the court consider in deciding whether to confiscate?

In considering whether to confiscate, the court must consider:

  • whether confiscation would cause you undue hardship in your trade, business, profession, occupation or employment, or to any other person who would otherwise have the regular use of the vehicle
  • the nature and extent of your interest in the vehicle and also the interest of any other person in it
  • any other factors the court thinks are relevant

What if the vehicle has already been sold?

If by the time you are convicted of the offence you have already sold the vehicle, the court may make an order prohibiting you from acquiring any other vehicle. Alternatively, if you've sold the original vehicle and already acquired another, the court can order that your new vehicle be confiscated.

If you've sold or disposed of your interest in the vehicle, but the court is not satisfied that this was intended to be permanent, the court has the power to set aside the sale or disposition.

Prohibition against buying new vehicle for 12 months

If your car has been confiscated you are not permitted to acquire any interest in any other motor vehicle for 12 months after the date of the confiscation order. If you fail to comply with this requirement you commit a separate offence that is subject to a fine. In addition to or instead of imposing a fine for this separate offence, the court may confiscate the new vehicle.

Court must confiscate if there is repeat offending

In some circumstances involving repeated offending the court must confiscate (as opposed to having a discretion as to whether to confiscate), unless this would cause you extreme hardship or cause undue hardship to any other person. This rule applies where:

  • you commit the first offence on or after 26 July 1996 against a specified provision of the LAND TRANSPORT ACT 1998 relating to disqualified driving, reckless or dangerous driving, alcohol- or drug-affected driving, or failing to stop after an accident, and
  • within four years of the first offence, you commit another offence against one of those land transport provisions, whether or not of the same kind

The court dealing with the second offence must be satisfied that your vehicle was being driven by you or was in your charge at the relevant time.

Can I appeal a confiscation order?

Yes, there are provisions in the CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT 1985 allowing you to appeal a confiscation order: see How to appeal against the confiscation of your motor vehicle.

Enforcement of confiscation orders

If you fail to surrender a motor vehicle that is subject to a confiscation order, the court will issue a warrant authorising a bailiff or Police officer to confiscate the vehicle. The bailiff or officer may enter premises and use force if necessary, provided they have a reasonable belief that the vehicle is on the premises.

It is an offence punishable by a fine to remove or attempt to remove a motor vehicle that has been surrendered to or seized by a bailiff or Police officer.

Cautionary notes
  • For most people a car is one of their biggest assets. In order to best protect your interests, it is strongly recommended that you seek the services of a lawyer if you are facing a confiscation order.

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