Detinue refers to a cause of action available under tort law to recover property wrongfully taken. Detinue can be sought following a detention of goods, where there has been a demand for their redelivery by a person who has a legal right to immediate possession of those goods, and a subsequent refusal by the current possessor. The right must be immediate: a right that is future, reversionary, proprietary, or contractual without being actual possession will be insufficient. Detinue often overlaps with the tort of conversion, which is essentially the same as detinue, except the owner did not necessarily ask for the goods to be returned. In Australian law, detinue and conversion have effectively been merged.

When pursuing a tort in detinue, there are several remedies available:

  • Delivery/return of goods. This is the common law version of specific restitution – it recognises that the goods are the plaintiff’s by right, and their entitlement to receive them back. It is not necessary to prove that damages are inadequate to receive delivery of goods;
  • Damages to be assessed at the date of judgement; and
  • Self-help.