New Judgment: R (Eastenders Cash and Carry plc & Ors) v HMRC (and anor case)  UKSC 34
11 Wednesday Jun 2014
Concerns the question whether customs officers have the power to detain goods which they reasonably suspect may be liable to forfeiture. Held: examining the wording of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, s 139(1), the right to seize or detain property under s 139(1) is dependent on the property actually being liable to forfeiture. This turns on objectively ascertained facts; not on beliefs or suspicions, however reasonable. However, customs officers have long had a statutory power to examine goods in order to determine the duty payable or whether the goods are liable to forfeiture. Prior to the enactment in the Customs and Excise Act 1952 of the power to detain goods liable to forfeiture, the courts interpreted customs officers’ statutory powers of examination as including, by necessary implication, an authority to detain goods on reasonable suspicion for such time as was reasonably necessary in order to make enquiries allowing officers to make their determination. When enacting the 1952 Act, Parliament did not impliedly abolish that power of detention, which is not conditional upon the goods’ being liable to forfeiture.