Confiscation order appeal was introduced as a method by which it was hoped that crime would no longer pay. If a person could not explain how he obtained any of his wealth he would lose it by default. This was targeted at crime lords and organised criminals who were often thought to be beyond the law. They amassed enough criminal wealth so that if caught committing fraud or fencing stolen goods they could employ the services of expensive criminal defence lawyers and criminal defence forensic accountants to minimise the sanctions imposed upon them.
Now the prosecution authorities look less at the specifics of the crime on its own, and often simply ask how the accused obtained his money. If it was obtained illegally, it will be impossible for him to explain its source and it is not enough to provide vague explanations. Detailed accounts are necessary. If the money was obtained legally but no records kept, this can pose just as much a problem as when criminal proceeds are the issue. Any wealth is still assumed to be the proceeds of criminal activity – or it might be revenue that is avoiding being taxed. In this case, it is taxed, along with interest and penalties so that the result is the same. The money is still confiscated by the authorities.
The confiscation order appeal was strengthened considerably in 2003 with the enforcement of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The Act introduced and strengthened a lot of measures which many say are too heavy-handed and sometimes even “unfair”. The intention was to create a system that allowed wealth to be taken away from the organised criminals, by being able to make assumptions that any wealth was from crime. It was up to the accused to explain where any wealth came from and if he couldn’t it would be taken away. The trouble is that the assumptions can be made on any person deemed to have a criminal lifestyle and the criteria for this are fairly light.
This could mean that a person who fails to pay for his petrol repeatedly, say three times in a row, could have his house and life savings taken away. In addition, he would need to account for every credit shown on his bank statements and every outgoing debit for six years prior to the date of the commencement of proceedings. If an order made within a confiscation order appeal is not paid on time, a substantial additional prison sentence can result.