What is the law of detinue and how can I reclaim my property?

Posted on Apr 27, 2021 by Peter Mullen   |   Categories: Animal Law, Criminal & Traffic Law

If someone has your property and won’t give it back, what can you do? Your options will depend upon the circumstances but you may be able to bring a common law claim in conversion or detinue against the person.

What is conversion?

Conversion occurs when a person unlawfully interferes with another person’s property and deals with it in a manner that is inconsistent with the owner’s exclusive right to possession of the property. For example, if Charlotte asks John to look after her dog while she goes on holiday and John gives the dog to Robert, then Charlotte can bring a claim in conversion against John.

What is detinue?

Detinue, on the other hand, arises when a person wrongfully detains or withholds another person’s property and refuses to return the property when demanded by the rightful owner.

Detinue is therefore very similar to conversion except for one important element: detinue is only committed when an owner demands the return of their property and that demand is unreasonably refused. Following on from the previous example, if Charlotte asks John to look after her dog while she is on holiday and John refuses to return the dog when Charlotte demands the dog back, then Charlotte can commence a claim in detinue against John.

Elements of detinue

In order to bring a successful claim in detinue, Charlotte must be able to establish the following:

  1. Charlotte must prove that she is the owner of the dog or otherwise has a right to immediate possession of the dog;
  2. Charlotte must demand the return of the dog
  3. John must refuse to return the dog
  4. John’s refusal to return the dog must be wrongful or unreasonable in the circumstances
  5. John’s conduct must cause Charlotte to suffer loss or damage

Types of property

Claims in detinue and conversion relate to personal property, such as a car, motorbike, boat, mobile phone, and even cats and dogs which are considered property under the law.

Is there a time limit for commencing legal proceedings?

There is a limitation period of 6 years for claims in detinue. This time starts running when the cause of action first arises. For detinue, the cause of action arises at the time the owner first demands the return of their property.


Remedies for detinue include:

  • A court order that the property be returned to the owner;
  • Compensation (usually equivalent to the market value of the property); or
  • Restitution (if damages or compensation is considered inadequate).

Baker Love Lawyers has experience in prosecuting successful claims in detinue. If you are having trouble reclaiming your property from another person contact Baker Love Lawyers for assistance.