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The Big Payback: Examining Changes in the Criminal Confiscation Orders Enforcement Landscape

Helena Wood
Occasional Papers, 8 February 2016
Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, UK, Domestic Security, Organised Crime
Recent changes to the legislation governing the claw-back of the proceeds of crime are welcome. But now, the momentum of reform needs to be maintained

The UK legislation for removing the proceeds of crime from the hands of convicted criminals, governed by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), is viewed as particularly punitive due to its ability to capture a wide pool of income and assets, some of which are not linked to the indictable offence. While this is desirable in policy terms, the broad framing of the law has created unintended consequences for those charged with enforcing the orders and the system has faced increasing criticism, most prominently in a 2013 report of the National Audit Office (NAO), regarding the disparity between the levels of orders made in the courts and the amounts eventually collected from the criminal.

The NAO’s report and some of the wider media coverage could be criticised for their focus on revenue-raising and ‘value for money’ rather than the impact on criminals, and for their failure to highlight the complexity of the law and the extent to which this (and not administrative failures) has led to the backlog of uncollected confiscation orders – currently £1.6 billion and rising. However the report did make a number of valid points, including on multi-agency co-ordination, and provided a catalyst for the government to recognise the centrality of the enforcement process to the success of the confiscation-orders regime as a whole.

This paper examines the legislative and systemic changes to the confiscation-order enforcement process introduced by the government in 2014 and 2015, and examines the extent to which these offer the needed shift in priority towards enforcement to reduce the current backlog and to prevent a future build-up. The paper then makes recommendations for consideration by policy-makers. 

About the Author

Helena Wood is an Associate Fellow at RUSI. Her research focuses on the efficacy of the powers of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in the fight against organised crime and on the UK’s anti-money-laundering architecture and its compliance with the Financial Action Task Force 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 had a variety of intelligence, strategy and policy roles in a number of UK government departments, including the National Crime Agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Treasury and the Charity Commission.

Author

Helena Wood
Associate Fellow

Helena Wood’s areas of research will focus on the efficacy of Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) powers in the fight against organised crime... read more

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