Can a court take my car after a drink driving conviction?

Woman provides a breath test to police following an accusation of drink driving
Courts have wide powers in dealing with people convicted of drink driving

Most people realise that once they are convicted of drink driving the court will take away their driving licence for at least 12 months, but most people aren’t too sure whether the court can also take away their car, it’s probably right to say that most people never think about it at all.

The answer is, yes, a court can take your car from you if you are convicted of drink driving.

Section 143 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 grants criminal courts the power to deprive a convicted defendant of any rights in property they to the property that was used to commit or facilitate a criminal offence or any property that the defendant intended to use to commit a crime, this specifically includes motor vehicles.

It is called a Deprivation Order and means that a court can lawfully deprive you of your car not only if you are convicted of driving with excess alcohol but also if you are convicted of attempting to drink drive. It also applies to somebody convicted of being drunk in charge of a motor vehicle and defendants who fail to provide a specimen of breath, blood or urine.

The key to arguing against a Deprivation Order is in section 143(5) of the Act, which tells a court they must consider the value of the vehicle and the likely financial and other effects on the offender of making the order. The case law shows that people have frequently avoided orders depriving them of their vehicles on appeal because courts have failed to take these factors into account.

A lot of the case law also shows us that the sentencing courts must take account of the totality of the rest of the sentence they impose when deciding if a Deprivation Order is proportionate to the offence at hand. Many people successfully argued on appeal that depriving them of their vehicle imposes too harsh a penalty on them when viewed in the context of the rest of the sentence imposed.

In some circumstances, the court can order the proceeds of the sale of your vehicle to be paid to any victims of your offending, such as somebody who was injured as a result of your actions. This may mean that if you hurt anybody or caused damage while drink driving the court is likely to be more inclined to deprive you of your vehicle.

Once the order is made you must turn your vehicle over the police, failure to comply is likely to be treated as contempt of court and result in a prison sentence. It is important to say that the order only deprives the person convicted of an offence of their rights to the vehicle. It has no effect on any other owners so, if there are other owners, it is important that this is brought to the court’s attention before the order is made. If an order is made then anyone else claiming to be an owner must make an application under the Police (Property) Act 1897, within six-months, to get the vehicle back.

Historically, prosecutors have been reluctant to seek confiscation of motor vehicles; however, the government appears unwilling to increase the penalties for drink driving or reduce the drink driving limit while police and prosecutors are looking for ways to reduce the number of people caught drink driving each year with ever reduced numbers of police officers. We’re already seeing a small rise in the number of applications for forfeiture following driving offences and it won’t be long before the police realise they can use section 143 as a way to further deter people who may be tempted to drink and drive.

Can you avoid the order by selling the car? This is risky because if the court believes you have done so to avoid the vehicle being taken away then you may find that you are in contempt of court or even that you are attempting to pervert the course of justice, conviction for either is likely to result in a relatively lengthy prison sentence.

Getting expert legal advice is essential even in cases that may seem straight-forward because of the potential consequences. You can contact an expert drink driving solicitor by calling 020 8242 4440 or visit our website.


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