Enforcing Criminal Confiscation Orders: From Policy to Practice

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The process for enforcing claw-back of the proceeds of crime has come under scrutiny in recent years, but is often misunderstood. This paper provides an explanation of the process and where the real problems lie

The enforcement process for criminal confiscation orders operating under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) has faced considerable criticism from both parliamentary and media commentators. The POCA was indeed a significant step forward and addressed the need to adopt effective measures to tackle the proceeds of criminal activity. However, the criminal-confiscation regime has a number of flaws, particularly in the practical challenges of enforcement. These were most prominently highlighted by the 2013 review conducted by the National Audit Office which led to calls for the development of a more effective system. The headlines make for stark reading: £1.6 billion in unenforced confiscation orders, an amount which is continuing to rise.

This paper is structured around two key issues. First, it examines how the law has been framed and applied. It provides a detailed analysis of the process, shedding light on some of the weaknesses of the current legislative environment. In addressing the second issue – unenforced confiscation orders – the paper specifically examines the assets on which these orders are based. The paper’s overall purpose is to assess the extent to which the law, rather than administrative failings, is the root cause of the large value of uncollected orders. In short, to what extent do real assets exist against which the authorities can take enforcement action?

About the Author

Helena Wood is an Associate Fellow of RUSI. Her research focuses on the efficacy of the powers of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) in the fight against organised crime and on the UK’s anti-money laundering architecture and its compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards.

Now working as an independent consultant on criminal-justice matters, Helena has over a decade of public-sector and law-enforcement experience, with a particular focus on the proceeds of crime and international law enforcement co-operation.

During her public-service career, Helena performed a variety of intelligence, strategy and policy roles in a number of UK government departments, including the National Crime Agency, Serious Organised Crime Agency, HM Treasury and the Charity Commission.


Helena Wood

Associate Fellow

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