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See a penny pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck… but should you? What if it is a fiver? What if it is a gold watch? That would be better luck… Should you keep it? 

Whether you can legally keep an item depends whether the owner has abandoned it or lost it. To abandon it the owner must have the mental intent to cease ownership. If the gold watch falls off whilst walking down the street the intent to own remains and it is simply lost.

As a general rule when you find goods that you know don’t belong to you they can be handed in to the police or a lost and found office if you found it in a public place like a bus or train. After a period of two months if the person who lost them hasn’t gone to the police station or the lost property office, to look for them, you can claim them.

Ownerless goods fall to be owned by the Crown via the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer. However the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 nominates the Chief Constable to deal with lost and abandoned property in Scotland subject to a clause that the QLTR can claim the property if she wishes to do so.

What should you do?

Alan CalderwoodGenerally, if you find something which is reasonable to infer is lost or abandoned you must take reasonable care of it and shall without unreasonable delay deliver the property or report the fact that you have taken possession of it to a constable. You also require to provide a description of the property and advise where it was found.

The Chief Constable can require the finder to deliver the property to a person directed by the Chief Constable. 

Failure to do the above can result in summary conviction and a £50 fine.

What does the Chief Constable do?

The chief constable must take reasonable steps to ascertain the identity of the owner. After 2 months he has discretion to offer it to the finder.  If he considers more appropriate he can sell or dispose of it. If the owner makes a claim on it and the Chief Constable is satisfied he is the owner then the item is returned. The Chief Constable can require the owner to pay any reasonable expenses and can require the owner pays a reward to the finder.

Importantly, no person who finds property appearing to be lost or abandoned shall, by reason only of finding it, have any right of ownership. So forget Finders Keepers after all!

Blog by Alan Calderwood

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