‘Hit them where it hurts’: The problem of making offenders pay for their crimes
Chair: Martin Gill
Aidan Larkin – Asset Reality in partnership with Altia-ABM
Marie-Claire Amuah – Senior Associate at Edmonds Marshall McMahon
Simon Davis – Barrister at Law at St Philips Chambers
Mick Beattie – National Coordinator for the financial crime portfolio at the NPCC
Marie-Claire Amuah sets a context of considerable budget cuts to law enforcement agencies, and you will hear her outline the very high level of frauds, which are still not a police priority, that have taken place alongside this. The result is a real problem in calling offenders to account. Marie-Claire describes her role in bringing about private prosecutions to enable victims to get justice; it is the only way open to them in holding offenders to account. She calls for more public and private sector collaboration. The Proceeds of Crime Act has much potential but its potential is not being realised, it requires leadership and that is lacking, and so is funding.
Mick Beattie notes that confiscating assets is complicated, there are so many loopholes it is difficult to know where to start to suggest improvements. There are so many stages from arrest to post sentence and they each have implications for practice. He describes some of the problems, for example, even if you identify assets, how do you store them? What about insurance? Moreover. following processes is difficult and there are gaps in the legislation. He commends the Law Commission initiative to tidy things up. Crucially he argues for a national strategy to guide action; it seems incredible that this does not exist already.
Simon Davis speaks as a barrister operating in England and Wales. He outlines some of the problems, experienced from the coalface. A major issue is that work in this area is complicated, the law is not easy to understand and interpret, it is low paid and the sort of work most prefer to avoid. There is a tendency to look at the easy options and that impacts on the level of compensation achieved. The whole process needs investment, not just of legal representatives, but also in the training of judges; this is a specialist area of work. Meanwhile, offenders abuse what is a failing system, the odds are in their favour, so little is recovered. On the positive side, the UN sees some merit in the system, and he points to the civil process as a guide to better practice. The area needs leadership.
Aidan Larkin speaks as a criminal investigator. He laments the lack of teeth in the system; 98% of the proceeds remain in the hands of criminals. You will witness Aidan putting forward ideas on where to look for good practice. He points to the system for dealing with insolvency, which is similar across the world; to successes in the world of cryptocurrencies; and to the way civil recovery works. He calls for a centralised approach. Legislation is there, it just needs to be made to work. He calls for victims needs to be prioritised and to focus on dealing with low hanging fruit.
Anyone coming new to this area may be surprised how weak it is. The logic is straightforward; few would disagree with the wisdom and value in reclaiming money from offenders, especially when the sums are so high. We have the legislation too, albeit international differences complicate work. But there is a lack of leadership and as a consequence a lack of funding. The opportunities are real, as all the panellists allude to. Whether there is the political will though, well that is another matter. Let’s hope the current focus of the Law Commissions spearheads a rethink.
3rd December 2020