Confiscation Orders - Public Accounts Committee Contents

2  Imposing confiscation orders

6. Confiscation orders can be imposed following successful prosecutions and financial investigations carried out by law enforcement agencies. However, law enforcement and prosecution agencies are missing opportunities to impose confiscation orders. In 2012-13, 673,000 offenders in England and Wales were convicted of a crime, a substantial proportion of which involved financial gain, but courts imposed only 6,392 confiscation orders.[13] A former member of the Crown Prosecution Service who worked in this area told us that staff in the agencies concerned often have a poor understanding and awareness of proceeds of crime legislation and the tools available to confiscate assets.[14]

7. The Director of Public Prosecutions noted that the low number of confiscation orders arose in part because of a lack of evidence to impose them and that increasing the number would require better guidance for practitioners together with a common set of criteria to assess whether pursuing a confiscation order would be appropriate and cost-effective.[15] In considering which cases would be appropriate for confiscation orders, the Director of Public Prosecutions told us that detailed work was needed and was being undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service to classify all criminal cases into distinct types, before deciding what sort of recovery action would be most appropriate for each type.[16]

8. The National Crime Agency told us that financial investigation was absolutely central to disrupting criminal activities, preventing criminals' access to their assets and confiscating criminal proceeds.[17] Since our 2007 report on the Assets Recovery Agency, significant progress has been made in professionalising financial investigation through the proceeds of crime centre.[18] However, despite this progress agencies often bring financial investigators into criminal cases too late in their preparations for court, and in some cases not at all.[19]

9. At the same time the use of restraint orders to freeze assets is reducing: only 1,368 orders were imposed in 2012-13, down from 1,878 in 2010-11.[20] The Director of Public Prosecutions told us that a recent Court of Appeal case had made it much harder to impose restraint orders and that there is a costs risk with unsuccessful applications.[21] The National Crime Agency informed us that it tried to take the earliest opportunity to restrain assets; but admitted that in its first three months of existence it had not frozen any assets within 24 hours of arrest in any case. [22] The Home Office, National Crime Agency and Crown Prosecution Service referred to the difficulties faced in arranging the imposition of a restraint order: the court needs to be shown by the prosecution that a criminal investigation or proceedings has started; that a suspect has benefited from criminal conduct; and that there is a risk that assets will be dissipated.[23]

13   Qq130-Q135 Back

14   Ev 18; C&AG's report, paragraph 3.5 Back

15   Q54 Back

16   Qq130-131 Back

17   Q10 Back

18   Q29; HC Committee of Public Accounts, Assets Recovery Agency, Fiftieth Report of Session 2006-07, HC 391, January 2011; C&AG's report, paragraph 2.5 Back

19   Qq38-39:  Back

20   Qq40-44; C&AG's report, paragraph 3.7 Back

21   Q44; Ev 20 Back

22   Qq81-85 Back

23   Ev 20 Back

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Prepared 21 March 2014