Police Seizure of Property


Get informed about the powers of police to seize property

The Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) sets out the powers of police to retain, return, and forfeit property that is seized. Important rights exist for individuals and businesses to access seized property, as well as to seek its return through applications and court orders, which lessen the inconvenience of important records being retained by police.

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Police Seizure of Property

Anderson Legal provides advice to individuals and businesses dealing with the police seizure of property.

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Police Seizure of Property

Anderson Legal provides advice to individuals and businesses dealing with the police seizure of property.

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View our growing library of articles and webinars, which are accessible no matter the time of day or night.

Free Consultation

Anderson Legal provides a free, no-obligation consultation to understand whether this firm can assist you.

Police powers to seize property in Queensland

In Queensland police have responsibilities to property owners as part of their power to seize property.
This section deals with the following:
Criminal Defence Image

Police powers to seize property in Queensland

In Queensland police have responsibilities to property owners as part of their power to seize property.
This section deals with the following:
Criminal Defence Image

Property seizure powers in Queensland

In Queensland, police have a number of powers to seize evidence, retain, and forfeit property relating to criminal proceedings. It is not just police suspects who may have their property seized by police, individuals, businesses, and other organisations may also have their property taken under police seizure powers.

Certain rights with respect to property are regarded as human rights in Queensland. Section 24(2) of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) deals with property rights. It states:

A person must not be arbitrarily deprived of the person’s property.

If a property owner is arbitrarily (unlawfully) denied their property, or their property is damaged, they may be able to make a claim for compensation. With respect to damaged property, section 804 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) states:

804 Compensation

(1) This section applies if a person suffers loss because—

(a) a police officer exercises powers under this Act; or

(b) an assistant exercises powers under this Act in accordance with a request of a police officer given under section 612.

(2) Compensation is payable by the State to the person whose property is damaged.

(3) However, compensation is not payable to a person if the person is found guilty of the commission of an indictable offence because of the exercise of the powers.

(4) Also, compensation is not payable for the lawful seizure of a thing under this Act.

(5) The Minister is to decide the amount of the compensation.

(6) A person who is dissatisfied with the Minister’s decision under subsection (5) may apply to a court, within 28 days, for compensation under this section.

(7) If the person applies under subsection (6), the court may decide the amount of the compensation.

There are a number of powers that allow police to validly seize property in Queensland. Broadly, police powers to seize property may be divided into two classes:

Powers to seize property without a warrant

In Queensland, police have powers to search individuals, vehicles and places without a warrant in prescribed circumstances. Given the intrusive nature of such searches and infringement on personal rights and liberties, searches without a warrant are expected to strictly follow the law. The starting point is whether police officer ‘reasonably suspects’ something that enlivens the power to perform a search. Such matters include (but are not limited to) that the person has:

  • a weapon, knife or explosive not lawfully possessed;
  • an unlawful dangerous drug;
  • stolen property or unlawfully obtained property; and,
  • evidence of the commission of a seven year imprisonment offence that may be concealed or destroyed.

Beyond these matters, there are specific situations when a police officer may seize property without a warrant, such as when dealing with seizing and removing vehicles in prescribed circumstances.

Experience shows that police do, at times, overstep their powers and perform searches that exceed their lawful powers. In such cases, it is open to courts to declare any evidence intended to be used against a person to be inadmissible, which can lead to charges being dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

Powers to seize property with a warrant

In Queensland, police officers have the power to execute search warrants on property, such as a house or business premises. While people in possession of a property have many legal protections from trespassers, police may enter property in specified circumstances where they have obtained a warrant. Warrants can empower police to do a number of things, including:

  • entering and remaining at a house or other premises for a specified time;
  • detaining and searching occupants of the house or other premises being searched;
  • seizing evidence relevant to the commission of a suspected offence;
  • opening locks and other secured items, such as safes;
  • requiring individuals to provide passwords to access computer devices; and,
  • actions that may cause structural damage to property.

It is possible to challenge the lawfulness of a search conducted by police, even where a warrant has been granted, and seek a court to exercise its discretion to rule any evidence seized as inadmissible.

How property owners can retrieve property

Police obligation to provide a receipt

When the police seize property in Queensland, they are required to provide a receipt to as soon as reasonably practicable after its seizure. If the person from whom the property is seized is not present, the receipt must be left in a “conspicuous place” at the premises where the property was located to be retrieved by the occupier on their return. There are exceptions to the obligation, such as when property is abandoned or it has no other value than as evidence of the commission of an offence (eg, blood, fingerprint impressions, fibres, debris, trace evidence, etc).

Copies of documents and records seized

Many people who have documents or records seized by police, which are sometimes essential for a business or work purpose, struggle to understand what they can do to access them following seizure by police. In some cases, an investigation or prosecution may take a long time to finalise, meaning the individual or business may be deprived of critical records for an extended period. The right to inspect seized documents is therefore an important right for individuals and businesses who have had such property seized.

Section 623 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) states:

623 Right to inspect seized documents

(1) Unless a justice or coroner otherwise orders, a police officer who seizes a document must allow a person who would be entitled to the document—

(a) to inspect it at any reasonable time and from time to time; and

(b) to take extracts from or make copies of it.

(2) If a police officer seizes a document under a production order, the officer, if asked by the person to whom the order was addressed, must give the person a copy of the document certified by the officer in writing to be a true copy of the document.

(3) The police officer may refuse to comply with subsection (1) or (2) if the officer reasonably suspects complying with the subsection will enable the person to repeat or continue an offence of which the documents are evidence or commit another offence.

Return of property by police

There are many reasons why a police officer may return property to the rightful owner, even in there are still ongoing investigations or prosecutions to which the property is relevant. Section 691 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) states:

691 Return of relevant things

(1) Unless a justice otherwise orders, a police officer must return a relevant thing to the owner of the thing or the person who had lawful possession of the thing before it came into the possession of the police service if the police officer is satisfied—

(a) it is not required to be retained; and

(b) it is lawful for the person to have possession of the thing.

(2) If the thing is evidence of the commission of an offence and a police officer considers it appropriate, the police officer must take the steps reasonably necessary to minimise the need to retain the thing as evidence by, as soon as reasonably practicable—

(a) photographing the thing or arranging for it to be photographed; or

(b) arranging for any necessary test or examination of the thing; or

(c) gathering any other available secondary evidence in relation to the thing.

(3) Despite subsection (1), if a police officer seized the relevant thing, a police officer may retain the thing for a reasonable time after it is seized if retention of the thing is necessary—

(a) to prevent a person using the thing to cause harm to himself, herself or someone else; or

(b) to prevent an offence or a breach of the peace happening; or

(c) to prevent the thing being used for domestic violence or associated domestic violence.

(4) This section does not apply to a relevant thing that the commissioner is satisfied is inappropriate to return to its owner or the person who had lawful possession of it before it was seized or came into the possession of the police service because of the nature or value of the thing or the circumstances of the offence to which it relates.

Obtaining property held for at least 30 days

A police officer has obligations to ensure certain things are done within 30 days following the seizure of property. Following 30 days, in certain circumstances, police may not retain property without an order from a justice of the peace or a magistrate. There are exceptions to this rule, such as if police have commenced a proceeding to which the property is relevant.

If property has been held by police for at least 30 days, a person may apply in writing to the Police Commissioner for its return to them or a nominee of the rightful owner. The Police Commissioner can only return the property if satisfied that (1) the applicant or their nominee may lawfully possess it; and, (2) it is appropriate that the property be delivered to the applicant or their nominee.

In the event the Police Commissioner refuses to return property seized by police and held for at least 30 days, then a person may make an application in the Magistrates Court for an order that the property be returned to them or a nominee. In allowing the return of property, a magistrate may impose conditions as part of the order. Property forfeited to the State cannot be obtained under an application of this kind, nor if it:

  • may be evidence in a proceeding started in relation to the thing; or
  • is a thing used in or for manufacturing a dangerous drug; or
  • may be subject to a forfeiture proceeding, including a forfeiture proceeding relating to an interstate serious offence under the Confiscation Act.

If property has not been returned by the end of a court proceeding, then a court may make an order in relation to it. A court may order the return, forfeiture, destruction or disposal of the property.

Forfeiture of property to the State

In Queensland the law allows property seized by police to be forfeited to the State if the Police Commissioner is satisfied it has no value. Also, at the end of a proceeding, the Police Commissioner may order property be forfeited if the owner cannot be found after reasonable inquiries, or it is not reasonable to make inquiries about its owner in the circumstances. Property may also be forfeited if the owner refuses to take possession of it.

Under section 719 of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld), the Police Commissioner may order the forfeiture to the State of property if satisfied:

  • the thing has been used in the commission of an offence; or
  • it is necessary to retain the thing to prevent it being used in the commission of an offence; or
  • possession of the thing is an offence unless authorised, justified or excused by law.

The Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) also sets out laws in relation to the impounding and forfeiture of vehicles for certain traffic and driving offences. Individuals suspected of or convicted of certain crimes may also face confiscation and forfeiture proceedings for significant assets under the Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act 2002 (Qld).

Although based in Brisbane, Anderson Legal is frequently engaged to assist people dealing with police issues across Queensland. If you have been impacted by the seizure of property by police and need advice and representation, Anderson Legal provides comprehensive criminal defence services to its clients. This includes:

  • providing advice relating to allegations made or documents served on our clients;
  • identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the case alleged against our clients;
  • advising clients on options relating to obtaining evidence, including expert evidence;
  • communicating on behalf of its clients with police, courts, and others;
  • resolving, where appropriate, criminal charges through negotiation;
  • applying to courts for orders and rulings, including to exclude police evidence;
  • representing clients in trials and sentences before all courts; and,
  • filing and litigating appeals against wrongful convictions and unjust sentences.

This firm places an emphasis on providing clear guidance so that our clients are placed in a real position to make informed decisions about their options and their preferred path forward. Anderson Legal provides clear, transparent disclosure of its legal costs at every stage.

  • Andrew Anderson, Legal Director, is an experienced lawyer who has been independently described by the Courier Mail as “one of the best legal minds” and a “leading corporate and white-collar crime lawyer” (16 December 2021).
  • Having successfully represented litigants in the High Court of Australia, Queensland Court of Appeal, Royal Commissions, and multiple other courts dealing with trials and other hearings, Andrew Anderson has a demonstrated record of success in complex and difficult cases.
  • Prior to operating a law firm, Andrew Anderson worked as a Principal Crown Prosecutor in Queensland and barrister in private practice at 8 Petrie Terrace Chambers in Brisbane. His depth of courtroom advocacy experience ranges from straightforward cases right through to complex homicide trials and appeals.
  • Anderson Legal is a law firm that is dedicated to the best ideals of the legal profession. Seeking to exceed client expectations and fighting for justice is an everyday pursuit.

Limitations on general information

Each legal issue is unique. The information on this page and website cannot – and is not meant to – substitute legal consultation. It is designed to outline information of a general nature if you want to learn more about police seizure of property, particularly as it relates to anybody facing an issue of this kind in Queensland. Anybody dealing with a police or other investigation ought to obtain expert legal advice and guidance as soon as possible.

No content accessible on the website is created to provide specific legal answers or advice. It is designed to provide general information about legal matters and related concepts. It should not be used as, or in substitute of, your own legal advice or other advice as appropriate.

To the extent allowed by law, no warranty, condition, or guarantee is provided in relation to the accuracy or reliability of any information contained on this site. Content may be changed from time to time without notice.

If you face an investigation or charge and need advice and representation, contact Anderson Legal. This firm provides expert advice and representation for people needing assistance to defend themselves against unjust accusations.

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