November 27, 2022

Victims are being let down by an “ineffective” system that has failed to recover billions of pounds from criminals, a review has found.

The Law Commission has called for a full review of the procedures used to recover the proceeds of crime, recommending that the powers of the courts to enforce confiscation orders be strengthened.

It concluded that the current method of recovering proceeds of crime under the Proceeds of Crime Act was “inefficient, complex and ineffective” and enforcement was “weak”, resulting in an outstanding debt of more than £2 billion in unrecovered funds in March of last year, following the failure of the victims.

Proposed changes to the regime could see an extra £8m recovered from criminals in England and Wales each year and returned to the public, according to the findings of the Home Office-commissioned review published on Wednesday.

The recommendations aim to make vast improvements, including making the process of recovering funds faster, fairer and more efficient, while providing more compensation to victims.

Professor Penney Lewis, Criminal Law Commissioner, said: “The current system for recovering the proceeds of crime is ineffective and is failing victims and the public.

“Our reforms would make essential improvements to the current forfeiture regime, allowing millions more funds to be successfully recovered from ill-gotten gains.

“By increasing enforcement powers, imposing more realistic and fairer orders and speeding up proceedings, we can ensure greater public confidence in the system and send a strong message that crime does not pay.”

The recommendations include giving courts more powers to enforce confiscation orders – which force a defendant to pay back the benefits of their crimes – and seize criminals’ assets.

The changes would also limit “unrealistic orders that can never be repaid” and speed up court proceedings, allowing victims to get compensation more quickly.

Under the proposed reforms, strict timetables for court hearings would be introduced as soon as an offender is convicted.

Property, bank account funds and other assets could be taken if the offender fails to pay back the proceeds of crime within a time limit set under tougher court orders.

Other powers available to courts, such as those preventing defendants from protecting funds or assets that may later be involved in forfeiture proceedings, would also be strengthened.

Police bodies should also pursue more training for officers working on seizures and confiscations, while the Government should set up a Criminal Assets Recovery Committee to set a national strategy, the panel said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “This Government is fully committed to ensuring that the full force of the law is used to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains and the confiscated assets offered as compensation to innocent victims.

“We are recovering more criminal assets than ever before, yet we recognize that there is more to be done to strengthen the law. We welcome the Law Commission’s findings and will continue to work with them to review and take the reforms forward.”

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