Scopelight Ltd v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police Force

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date05 November 2009
Neutral Citation[2009] EWCA Civ 1156
Date05 November 2009
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)

Court of Appeal

Before Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Wilson and Lord Justice Leveson

Scopelight Ltd and Others
Chief Constable of Northumbria Police and Another
Police can keep seized property pending private prosecution

The police could retain property they seized after the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute but a private prosecution was being contemplated or taking place.

The Court of Appeal so stated when allowing the appeal of the defendants, the Chief Constable of Northumbria and the Federation against Copyright Theft, from a decision on a preliminary issue made by Mrs Justice SharpUNK ([2009] 2 Cr App R 365) at the commencement of civil proceedings in whic h the claimants, Scopelight Ltd, its directors, Anton Benjamin Vickerman and Kelly-Ann Vickerman, owners of a website called, sought to recover property including computers, servers, memory sticks and mobile phones, seized by the police pursuant to a warrant in the investigation of contemplated criminal proceedings.

The judge ruled that, under section 22 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, in the absence of continuing independent justification, the police were not entitled to retain property seized under that Act once a decision not to prosecute had been taken by the Crown Prosecution Service, so tha t a private body could consider whether to bring a prosecution, or while that private prosecution was being brought.

Mr Richard Spearman, QC, Mr Tom Weisselberg and Mr David Groome for the defendants; Mr Iain Purvis, QC, and Mr Hugo Cuddigan for the claimants; Mr Aftab Jafferjee, QC, intervening by written submissions, for the RSPCA.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON said that section 22 of the 1984 Act did not preclude the police from retaining seized property where the Crown Prosecution Service had notified the parties of its decision not to prosecute those from whom the property had been seized but a private prosecuting ag ency had made it clear to the police that advice would be sought on a private prosecution which had since been mounted.

The police then had power to determine whether it was necessary in all the circumstances that the property seized should be retained for forensic examination, or for investigation in connection with an offence, or for use as evidence at a trial for an offence.

Such a decision was for the police and the approach...

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