Border Force or HMRC have the right to seize any goods in the UK if duty has not been paid properly, if the items are prohibited in the UK, or if customs regulations have been broken. This has been made worse for tourists as well as residents in the UK with the new regulations that came into force as a result of Brexit, in which goods from neighbouring EU member states attract the same strict declaration rules as non-EU member states.
To err on the side of caution, it is important to make a declaration of valuable goods before passing the border, even if they are considered to be personal items and on which duty has already been paid. If duty has not already been paid, it may be necessary to declare the items in order to protect them from being seized.
In the vast majority of cases, the items are seized at the point of entry where an individual should be given enough information in a seizure notice on how to restore the items, or challenge the legality of the seizure as a point of law in condemnation proceedings. The restoration and condemnation procedures are two different avenues through which to challenge, where the ultimate goal is to have the property restored. Both processes are complicated and require compliance with strict deadlines in challenging the Border Force or HMRC.
It is important to note that whilst the seizure relates to the duty not being paid, or no declaration made at the point of entry, the owner must remember to have proof of ownership, especially if the items are of high value. There are numerous cases where the individual seeking to restore their property has been wrong-footed by not being able to show proof of purchase, even for items that were bought several years ago.
It is advisable to seek legal advice at the earliest available opportunity from when notice is given by the UK Border Force to ensure a quick and financially advantageous remedy.
If you are present at the time of the seizure you will be given a ‘Seizure Information Notice’ and the reason for seizure will be explained to you. If you are importing or exporting goods through a courier, the items will be seized at the border and the Notice of Seizure will be sent to you.
If you do not agree with the seizure of your items, the first port of call is to instruct expert lawyers in order to negotiate with the UK Border Force, to avoid expensive litigation in Court.
The negotiation would involve the legality of the seizure in the first place and/or the restoration of the items seized. This process can take several months, after which an agreement may not be reached by both sides, at which point proceedings will commence in Court.
It is important to note that the onus to prove ownership and/or that the items should be restored, is on the owner of the items. As the process involves liaising and negotiation with the authorities, expert legal advice should be sought. This must be done within one month of the date of the seizure. This will then initiate ‘condemnation proceedings’ where a court will decide whether something was lawfully seized or not.
The seizure by customs is not limited to goods or items; it also applies to money or digital currencies. This is usually where the authorities suspect the source of the money is from criminal activity or suspect that it is linked to organised crime.
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) provide the authorities with the power to lawfully seize money if they suspect that there is evidence of a crime.
The onus is on you to prove the legitimate source of the money seized. It is important when crossing borders that a declaration is made in order to show that there is nothing untoward with regard to the money, and this will assist your lawyers in the future in challenging the seizure and making sure that the money is returned to you.
It is important to note that whenever you have items or cash seized from you, the force seizing it must identify themselves to you and provide evidence of what was seized.
Details such as bank statements, receipts for the cash and the source of funds are extremely important because not only can the authorities seize your cash but also charge you with money laundering and you may face criminal prosecution as a result. Here at Nicholls & Nicholls we specialise in challenging the seizures as well as defending criminal allegations of that nature.
We are experienced in challenging authorities whenever our clients are in a difficult and complicated process of having their property taken from them and ensure that we take every legal step to reunite clients with their property. Some items have both financial and sentimental value; both of which we pride ourselves in reuniting with the rightful owner(s).
As this is a long-winded process, it is advised to get in touch with Nicholls & Nicholls at the earliest available opportunity. We can provide advice on how to challenge a Notice of Seizure out of time and whether you have grounds for such a challenge.
Timing is of the essence as the UK Border Force may dispose of goods after a certain amount of time.
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