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Opinions of Thursday, 5 November 2015

Columnist: Lawyer Ace Anan Ankomah

Can the police seize a driver’s licence?

Someone asked me whether the police have power to seize your driver’s licence for any reason.

My cursory reading of the Road Traffic Act (RTA), the parent legislation, suggests that that may only happen in TWO instances:

(1) Where DVLA has revoked your licence and you fail to deliver it to them, the police, upon the production of it, may seize it and deliver it to DVLA; or

(2) Where the police have reasonable cause to believe that a document (which could include a licence) produced to them is one in relation to which an offence has been committed under the Act.

It appears that apart from the above, there are no other provisions under the RTA itself for the seizure, confiscation, detention or retention of a driver’s licence.

There is, however, a provision in the Road Traffic Regulations (RTR), subsidiary legislation, that a uniformed police officer who is not below the rank of an inspector may, “where necessary,” retain your licence for any period that the licence is required, and then issue an official receipt for the retention.

In other words, the RTA itself specifies only 2 instances in which the police may seize a licence.

Is it the case, then, that any seizure outside those instances is illegal? Or is it the case that the RTR has expanded the instances for seizing licences? I note that the RTR is issued under the power given under the RTA for the Minister for Roads and Transport to issue the regulations is generally “for the effective implementation of the Act,” and for the specific purposes listed in the RTA, which includes “any other matter that needs to be prescribed for the purposes of this Act”?

There appears to me to be no specific provision that permits the expansion or application of the seizure power beyond the two stated in the RTA.

So, does the RTR create another instance where the police may seize a licence, or is it the case that the provision in the RTR is meant to regulate the two instances provided for under the RTA? Or, have the regulations donated a power of seizure to the police, which is additional to those specifically given under the parent legislation?

When I consider the use of the words “where necessary” in the RTR, then I tend to lean towards an interpretation that the provision in the RTR only seeks to regulate the instances specifically provided for seizing a licence, under the RTA.

The effect then would be that if your licence has to be seized under the two instances provided under the RTA (i.e. “where necessary”), then the following would apply:

(a) although any uniformed police officer can ask to see your licence, it may only be seized by one who is not below the rank of an inspector,

(b) the seizure may be for any period that the licence is required, and

(c) you must be issued with an official receipt for the retention/seizure.