The asset forfeiture team at Libertas Chambers are specialists in this fast developing field of criminal and civil practice. The Serious Fraud office, the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service are not slow to take advantage of recent amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, to bypass traditional methods of prosecution and confiscation in situations where there is often little prospect of proving a criminal offence. The Criminal Finances Act 2017 has amended the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to allow authorised law enforcement agencies such as police or customs to seize, detain and forfeit “listed assets”, if they are recoverable property or intended for use in unlawful conduct. Listed assets can include precious metals, precious stones, watches, artistic works, face-value vouchers and postage stamps.
Taken together, these Acts provide these agencies with an array of new powers all designed to make it easier to freeze and forfeit property alleged to have been obtained in the context of criminal conduct allegedly committed anywhere. The process is typically commenced by an ex parte approach by an investigator to a Magistrates Court for an order freezing a bank account for up to two years if there is merely a reasonable suspicion that the balance is recoverable. However, the standard of proof is higher to convert that freezing order into a forfeiture order because the Applicant must make the Court satisfied that the “property” was obtained through unlawful conduct or was intended for use in unlawful conduct.
Because these orders are intended to be used by law enforcement to forfeit large sums of money without having to prosecute anyone and prove their guilt, a rapid, cohesive and effective defence response is highly desirable. At Libertas Chambers, our experienced asset forfeiture team work closely with their instructing solicitors to develop careful strategies in order to defeat these applications by using proactive and focused case preparation at all stages of the process.