The return of property to the owner or person entitled to possession. If one person has unjustifiably received either property or money from another, he has an obligation to restore it to the rightful owner in order that he should not be unjustly enriched or retain an unjustified advantage. This obligation exists when, for example, goods or money have been transferred under compulsion (duress), under mistake, or under a transaction that fails because of illegality, lack of formality, or for any other reason or when the person who has taken the property has acquired a benefit through his actions without justification.
In certain circumstances the courts may make a restitution order in respect of property. Under the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, if someone is convicted of any offence relating to stolen goods the court may order that the stolen goods or their proceeds should be restored to the person entitled to recover them. The court will only exercise this power, however, in clear cases that do not involve disputed questions of fact or law. Under the Police (Property) Act 1897, magistrates' courts are empowered to make a restitution order in favour of a person who is apparently the owner of property that has been obtained by the police in connection with any crime, even when no charge can be brought or the goods are seized under a search warrant. If the owner cannot be found, the court may make any order it thinks fit (usually an order for sale by auction). The police have no power to retain property lawfully seized merely because they think the court will probably make a restitution order.