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UK Supreme Court split on confiscation

Supreme Court logoIt is perhaps surprising and a little troubling to find in 2018 the UK Supreme Court split 3 – 2 on the application of confiscation legislation which is 15 years old.

The issue was a simple one – but its resolution involved consideration of some fundamental principles of statutory interpretation.

The issue & the relevant legislation

There were two defendants, who were husband and wife, R v McCool (Northern Ireland) [2018] UKSC 23.  Each of them had pleaded guilty to four offences in connection with false applications made for state benefits.  In each case one offence occurred prior to 24 March 2003, and the other three after that date.

When it came to confiscation the prosecution wished to proceed under Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 rather than Criminal Justice Act 1988 confiscation provisions – but should they be permitted to do so?

That was the issue the Supreme Court was tasked to determine.

The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 confiscation provisions apply to offences committed after 23 March 2003, by virtue of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Commencement No 5, Transitional Provisions, Savings and Amendment) Order 2003.

The prosecution had sought to disregard for each defendant the offence committed before 24 March 2003, relying in each case on the benefit from only the three later offences.

The prosecution did not seek to invoke the ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions against the defendants.

One might ask why the prosecution did not wish to proceed under Criminal Justice Act 1988 provisions, which could have allowed the s72AA statutory assumptions to be invoked.  The answer is not spelled out in the judgment but it is clear that, in any event, each defendant’s ‘available amount’ was less than his or her ‘benefit’.  So the statutory assumptions under CJA 1988 would not have produced any useful result in practice.

On the other hand, the CJA 1988 legislation has no provision similar to s22 PoCA 2002, which provides for the upward variation of a confiscation order in later years when a defendant has an increased ‘available amount’.

It may have been the potential for a future s22 application which attracted the prosecution to the PoCA 2002 confiscation provisions (even though this involved a reduction in ‘benefit’ because in each case any ‘benefit’ arising under the earliest offence could not be recognised at all under PoCA 2002).

Although this was a Northern Ireland case very similar legislation applies in England and Wales, so the decision of the Supreme Court is equally relevant in that jurisdiction.

The legislation

The transitional provisions provide that “Section 6 of the Act (making of confiscation order) shall not have effect where the offence, or any of the offences, mentioned in section 6(2) was committed before 24th March 2003″ (but with the substitution of s156, the equivalent section, in Northern Ireland).

Subsection (2) (in England and Wales) provides:-

“The first condition is that a defendant falls within any of the following paragraphs —

    (a) he is convicted of an offence or offences in proceedings before the Crown Court;
    (b) he is committed to the Crown Court for sentence in respect of an offence or offences under section 3, 3A, 3B, 3C, 4, 4A or 6 of the Sentencing Act;
    (c) he is committed to the Crown Court in respect of an offence or offences under section 70 below (committal with a view to a confiscation order being considered)”.

The Northern Ireland legislation is similar, but with (b) omitted.

Here the two defendants had been committed to Crown Court with a view to a confiscation order being considered.

Lord Kerr’s view

Lord Kerr’s view was that it would be “a wholly anomalous result” if this legislation were interpreted to mean that where a defendant had been convicted, in the same proceedings, of offences committed both before and after 24 March 2003 all of those offences had to be dealt with under the earlier confiscation statutes.

In Lord Kerr’s opinion, it was Parliament’s intention that all offences committed after 23 March 2003 which could generate confiscation orders under the Act should be dealt with under PoCA 2002.

“It cannot have been intended that a swathe of post-2003 offences should be removed from the Act’s purview simply because the defendant was convicted of an associated offence before the relevant date”, he said.

Since the courts will generally seek to find an interpretation of legislation which does not produce an anomalous or absurd result, and which gives effect to Parliament’s intention, subsection (2) must be interpreted as referring to the “offence or offences” to which PoCA 2002 applied.  That is the “offence or offences” committed after 23 March 2003.

It follows that the “offence or offences mentioned” in subsection (2) were all committed after 23 March 2003.

On that basis the defendants’ offences committed before 24 March 2003 could be ignored and confiscation could proceed under PoCA 2002 as sought by the prosecution – relying only upon those offences committed after 23 March 2003.

The views of Lord Hughes and Lady Black

Lord Hughes and Lady Black arrived at the same conclusion as Lord Kerr.

“If the appellants’ contention were correct, and the earlier confiscation regime has to be applied wherever there is a single pre-commencement offence on the indictment (or before the magistrates) even if it is not relied on for confiscation, it would follow that that rule would have to apply even if the pre-commencement offence could never, even arguably, have generated a benefit, and thus could never, even arguably, have had the slightest relevance to the issue of confiscation,” said Lord Hughes.

Because this outcome “might well be termed absurd” this could not be the appropriate interpretation of the legislation.

Since three of the five judges had reached this conclusion the prosecution’s approach had prevailed.

The dissenting minority

The dissenting minority, Lord Reed and Lord Mance, disagreed with the majority about the intention of Parliament and did not agree that it would be “absurd” for the earlier confiscation legislation to have been required to apply where one or more offences dealt with in the same proceedings had been committed before 24 March 2003.

They considered that the words in the legislation should be given their natural meaning and that the interpretation placed on the words by the majority was “strained beyond breaking point”.

“It seems to me to be much more likely that the drafter of the transitional provisions intended to bring all the offences in any set of proceedings into one statutory confiscation scheme or the other. Then, at least, no offences would fall outside all confiscation regimes”, said Lord Reed.

Conclusions

The prosecution won the day and it is now undeniable that the prosecution may opt, in confiscation proceedings, to entirely disregard offences committed before 24 March 2003 in order to proceed under PoCA 2002.

It is also true that none of the Supreme Court justices considered it appropriate in this case to “read into” the legislation additional words in order to give a clear and unambiguous meaning to that legislation.

However the sharp differences in opinion in these judgments underline the dangers of seeking to divine the intentions of Parliament – and the complexities of the law around confiscation.

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article applies to confiscation proceedings under the provisions of Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales. There are a number of additional issues which could be relevant to a defendant’s confiscation proceedings in particular cases which it is not possible to deal with in a relatively short article such as this. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

Confiscation & legitimate businesses

Business officeDo recent English Court of Appeal decisions map out a new approach to confiscation when applied to legitimate businesses which have become tainted with criminality?

Has there been an evolution in the assessment of ‘benefit’ following the Supreme Court judgment in Waya?

Are the courts in certain circumstances now looking to confiscate only the profit from trading?

 

Payments received

Whilst one could describe drug trafficking as a ‘business’ as it involves trading in goods, it has long been the case – since the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 in fact – that the gross receipts of such a ‘business’ are treated as ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

Drug trafficking is of course a wholly criminal enterprise.  Prior to the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 confiscation in respect of drug trafficking was dealt with under a separate legislative regime which specified that the offender’s benefit was “any payments or other rewards received”.  That can only mean the gross receipts.

 

Property obtained

But the wording of the confiscation provisions in s71 Criminal Justice Act 1988, relating to non-drug crime, referred to property “obtained” as a result of or in connection with the offence.  Similar wording was adopted when the two different legislative regimes for confiscation were merged in PoCA 2002.  Is the notion of what an offender has “obtained” a more flexible one than what he has “received”?

Initially the PoCA 2002 formulation was considered, identically to the old drug crime wording, to refer to gross receipts.  For example the Court of Appeal in CPS Nottinghamshire v Rose [2008] EWCA Crim 239 at paragraph [67] said “it can safely be assumed that Parliament, in enacting the legislation, did not intend to weaken the application of the existing confiscation regime”.

The House of Lords in the case of CPS v Jennings [2008] UKHL 29 confirmed that “obtained” meant obtained, solely or jointly, by the offender himself & that a person may “obtain” property without it actually passing through his hands.  In R v May [2008] UKHL 28 it was said that a defendant “ordinarily obtains property if in law he owns it”.  In that sense the notion of what has been “obtained” may be wider than that which has been “received”.

But the House of Lords also recognised that a person may “receive” property without “obtaining” it – as in the case of a courier.

 

High water mark

Perhaps the case of Del Basso & Goodwin v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1119 might be regarded as a high water mark in the application of confiscation to legitimate business.  In that case the offenders operated a ‘park & ride’ business in contravention of an enforcement order.  There was no local authority planning permission allowing the use of the land in question for that purpose.  A confiscation order based on the gross receipts of the business was upheld by the Court of Appeal notwithstanding the acknowledged fact that in other respects the business was operated in a proper & lawful manner.

 

Scottish High Court case

But in a case involving the Weir Group PLC, a quoted company, the Scottish High Court took a very different line.  The Weir Group PLC paid an agreed figure of £13,945,962 in confiscation and a fine of £3m after pleading guilty to two charges of breaching UN sanctions in connection with a number of ‘Oil for Food’ programme contracts awarded between 2000 and 2002.  The company admitted breaching UN sanctions applicable at the time on doing business with Iraq which was then ruled by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Under the relevant statute, s1(1) Proceeds of Crime Scotland Act 1995, the Scottish Court had discretion to make a confiscation order in “such sum as the court thinks fit”.  The Weir Group companies had secured 16 contracts, for which they were paid £34,340,204, by paying ‘kickbacks’ of £3,104,527. The confiscation order was for only £13,945,962. This included Weir’s gross profit of £9,414,283 from the contracts – plus the kickbacks of £3,104,527 and the fee of £1,427,152 paid to Weir’s agent in Iraq.

The confiscation order could have been for £20m more had the Scottish Court settled on the gross receipts as the appropriate figure for confiscation.

 

Three contrasting situations

Recent Court of Appeal decisions in England & Wales appear to differentiate between three contrasting situations.

The first is where a licence or other form of authorisation is mandatory when carrying on a particular trade or business activity but the absence of that licence does not render the trading itself illegal.  So, for example, in Sumal & Sons (Properties) Ltd v London Borough of Newham [2012] EWCA Crim 1840 the company was convicted of being the owner of a rented property without a licence contrary to s95(1) Housing Act 2004.

However the Court of Appeal found that the Housing Act did not prohibit the renting out of an unlicensed property & that the rent was legally recoverable from tenants even where the required licence had not been obtained.

That being the case, the rent was not received or obtained as a result of or in connection with the offence & so was not ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

A similar result occurred in the case of Mr Singh who failed to obtain a licence under s1(1) Scrap Metal Dealer’s Act 1964, before he carried on business as a scrap metal dealer – see McDowell & Singh v The Queen [2015] EWCA Crim 173.  Again his trading activity was not itself prohibited due to the absence of a licence & therefore no ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes arose from it.

The underlying trading was not itself an illegal activity, nor could it be said to have resulted from the criminal conduct.

Confiscation orders which had been made in these cases were quashed on appeal.

 

Illegitimate trading

At the other end of the scale we have trading activity which is itself illegal, being prohibited by law.  Obviously drug trafficking falls into this category but so too was the trading of a company controlled by Mr McDowell who was convicted of being knowingly concerned in the supply, delivery, transfer, acquisition or disposal of controlled goods with intent to evade the prohibition thereon, contrary to Article 9(2) Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003.

The trading in question involved the delivery of aircraft and other military equipment from China to Ghana.  The Court of Appeal found the underlying transactions to be prohibited and unlawful.  Mr McDowell’s criminal offence was being concerned in the trading activity.  His ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes was the gross amount received from that trading.

Intriguingly however the Court of Appeal added, “We were informed only that the company’s accounts revealed the gross profit made by the company in consequence of all its trading. In these circumstances, even if, in principle, the court had been prepared to entertain a submission that the appellant’s benefit was for a lesser sum than his receipts, he had manifestly failed to discharge the burden of proof.”

 

Legitimate trading resulting from criminality

But the Court of Appeal in McDowell suggests at paragraph [51] there is a middle ground – “In a case in which the underlying transactions producing the appellant’s receipts are lawful and not criminal, the cost of those transactions to the defendant may, on the grounds of proportionality, properly be treated as consideration given by the appellant for the benefit ‘obtained’. There may be no “loser” as contemplated by the Supreme Court in Waya and by the Vice President in Jawad, but the underlying principle is the same – the defendant has not gained by his conduct to the extent that he has given value for his receipts. Each case must be decided according to its particular facts.”

We are dealing here with the situation in which the defendant has committed an offence and that offence has resulted in trading activity which would not otherwise have occurred – but the underlying trading activity is not itself criminal conduct.

An earlier decision of the Court of Appeal had concerned a Mr Sale who had obtained contracts for his engineering company from Network Rail by bribing one of their employees, R v Sale [2013] EWCA Crim 1306.  The engineering work was properly performed and was, of itself, an entirely legal trading activity.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the amount to be confiscated was not the gross receipts of the company under the contracts but was the company profit plus the the pecuniary advantage gained by obtaining market share, excluding competitors, and saving on the costs of preparing proper tenders for the work.  The Court of Appeal held that, on grounds of proportionality & in the light of the Supreme Court decision in Waya, the amount ordered to be paid under the confiscation order ought to have been calculated on that basis.

In another case, R v Boughton Fox [2014] EWCA Crim 2940, the court had found that customers had been induced by dishonest misrepresentations to enter into legitimate leasing agreements upon terms which were, in the event, more onerous than had been represented to them.  The defendant’s company had received commission from the lessors on the signing of the lease agreements.  The defendant was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and was subject to a confiscation order.

The Court of Appeal, following Sale, concluded “that the benefit to the appellant might arguably be reflected as (1) the gross profit from the dishonest trading activity, (2) the increase in market value of the company, if any, represented by the dishonest trading activity with (3) an adjustment to represent the appellant’s 50% interest in the company”.

In the event however there was no information before the Court enabling it to assess the benefit in that way & it instead took Mr Boughton Fox’s benefit to be a proportion of the salary & dividends received by him over the period of the offending.

 

Conclusion

It appears that in the three contrasting situations the amount to be paid under a confiscation order may be based on (a) no benefit, (b) benefit equal to gross receipts, or (c) a figure based, on grounds of proportionality, on the gross profit from the resulting trading plus the value of any other advantages obtained (such as benefit from increased market share and cost savings).

An accountant might consider that the appropriate figure, instead of gross profit plus cost savings, should be the contribution which the trading in question makes to net profit, that is to say the relevant turnover net of associated variable costs.  That would be a better measure of what the business has gained by the additional sales.

Certainly in such cases a forensic accountant, such as myself, should be instructed to assist in quantifying the appropriate figure.

The key to differentiating the three situations is a careful analysis of the nature of the offence and the extent, if at all, to which it involves trading, or results in underlying trading, which is itself illegal.  Where the offence involves illegal trading, or results in trading which is itself illegal, then the benefit will be the gross amount received from that trading.

Where the offence does not involve trading but results in trading which itself is not illegal, then the expenses incurred in that trading are not expenses of the crime and may be treated, on grounds of proportionality, as consideration which may reduce the amount to be paid under the confiscation order.

Where the offence does not itself involve trading and the trading does not result from the offence, then that trading does not give rise to any benefit for confiscation purposes.

However there are undoubtedly some legal complexities inherent in this new approach particularly with regard to distinguishing, on the one hand, trading receipts from criminal activity and, on the other, trading receipts from legitimate activity resulting from criminal conduct.

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will endorse this new approach when an appropriate case comes before it.

 

Contacting us

Our contact details are here.

David

(Note: This article applies to confiscation proceedings under the provisions of Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales.  There are a number of additional issues which could be relevant to a defendant’s confiscation proceedings in particular cases which it is not possible to deal with in a relatively short article such as this.  Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

Appealing out of time after a change of law

When the law changes can an appeal be made to the Court of Appeal outside the normal time limits?

Normally an appeal against a decision of the Crown Court in England and Wales has to be submitted within 28 days of the decision. But the Court of Appeal can give leave for an appeal to be heard where the deadline has been missed – and has done so in some cases where the deadline has been missed by months or even years.

Where a defendant has suffered a decision which, though it appeared to be well founded at the time it was made, now appears to be incorrect in the light of subsequent case law, what is the position regarding the submission of an appeal out of time?

This is an issue which arises from time to time – and may be particularly topical following the decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51.

 

The general rule

The general rule is that the Court of Appeal will not allow an appeal to be made out of time if the only reason for the appeal is that subsequent cases have shown the previous perception of the legal position was mistaken.

This was set out many years ago in the case of R v Mitchell [1977] 65 CAR 185 when it was said that, “It should be clearly understood, and this court wants to make it even more abundantly clear, that the fact there has been an apparent change in the law or, to put it more precisely, the previous misconceptions about the meaning of a statute have been put right, does not afford a proper ground for allowing an extension of time in which to appeal against conviction”.

That rule has been reiterated many times since.  See, for example, the comment, “alarming consequences would flow from permitting the general re-opening of old cases on the ground that a decision of a court of authority had removed a widely held misconception as to the prior state of the law” from the case of Ramsden [1972] Crim LR 547 and repeated, with approval, in the case of R v Ramzan & Others [2006] EWCA Crim 197 at paragraph [30].

In the case of R v Cottrell [2007] EWCA Crim 2016 it was said, at paragraph [42], “there is a continuing public imperative that so far as possible there should be finality and certainty in the administration of criminal justice.  In reality, society can only operate on the basis that the courts administering the criminal justice system apply the law as it is.  The law as it may later be declared or perceived to be is irrelevant”.

But there have been exceptions made to the general rule.

 

Substantial injustice

It does appear to be the case that where the Court of Appeal can be satisfied that a defendant has suffered a substantial injustice then it can be persuaded to hear an appeal out of time. In the case of Hawkins [1997] 1 Cr.App.R 234 the Court of Appeal commented that “the practice of the Court has in the past, in this and comparable situations, been to eschew undue technicality and ask whether any substantial injustice has been done”.
So, for example, where a defendant has been convicted of an offence of which, under a new understanding of the law, he could not now be found guilty – but the evidence shows that he must have been guilty of another similar offence (of which he had not been charged), then the Court of Appeal will generally not allow an appeal to be heard out of time. This was the position of a Mr Malik who had been convicted of conspiracy to launder money prior to the ruling in R v Saik [2006] UKHL 18 (which changed the law regarding the conspiracy offence where there was merely a suspicion that monies were proceeds of crime). The Court of Appeal considered that there was ample evidence of the substantive offence of money laundering in Mr Malik’s case and refused him leave to appeal his conviction out of time.

In R v Charles [2001] EWCA Crim 1755 the Court of Appeal said, at paragraph [41], “In practice judges and courts are probably not as reluctant to grant extensions of time as the authorities may suggest. It has been the experience of the members of this Court that consideration will usually be given to the merits before declining to grant an extension of time. Both in Jones (No. 2) and Asraf, the merits were considered notwithstanding the absence of any proper explanation for the delay. There are some cases, such as those where the applicant wishes to rely on fresh evidence unavailable at trial, where the extension of time will be readily granted. There are cases such as those envisaged in Hawkins where it will not be”.

 

Failure to address a key issue

Perhaps slightly different are cases where, because the law was not properly understood at the time, a key issue in the proceedings was not recognised and addressed in the Crown Court. This is illustrated by the case of Bell & Others v R [2011] EWCA Crim 6.

Mr Bell was subject to a confiscation order made in 2007 after he had been convicted of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of the duty chargeable on cigarettes contrary to section 170(2)(a) Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. The confiscation order was based on the amount of duty evaded when the cigarettes in question had been smuggled into the UK. But in fact it does not follow that a person committing this offence is himself liable for the duty and thus has ‘obtained’ a pecuniary advantage which would form the basis for a confiscation order. That had not been appreciated by the Crown Court at the time the confiscation order was made. In consequence the Crown Court had not addressed the question of whether Mr Bell was himself liable for the evaded duty and evidence relevant to that issue had not been obtained.

Subsequently the Court of Appeal had decided the case of White & Others v The Crown [2010] EWCA Crim 978 which highlighted this issue. Mr Bell then lodged an appeal against the confiscation order made against him three years earlier.

Before the Court of Appeal it was accepted that, in fact, Mr Bell had not been personally liable for the evaded duty. The Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the confiscation order out of time because “it would be a grave injustice not to grant leave”.

In place of a benefit of £157,775 based on the evaded duty, Mr Bell was made subject to a confiscation order of just £950 based on the payment he had received for his role in the smuggling offence.

 

The impact of R v Waya

We have yet to see whether the Court of Appeal will grant leave to appeal confiscation orders out of time following the decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51.

The Waya case decided two points of principle: (1) confiscation orders should not be ‘disproportionate’ because that would infringe Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and (2) a mortgage applicant does not ‘obtain’ a mortgage advance (for confiscation purposes) if that advance is simply paid to a solicitor, acting on behalf of both the applicant and the lender, and then remitted to the vendor of the property being purchased (or his solicitor) – because the mortgage applicant does not at any stage gain ‘control’ of the monies advanced.
It may be that defendants who have been subject to a confiscation order which they consider is more severe than the Crown Court would have made had the decision in Waya been available at the time will now seek to appeal their orders. It will be very interesting to see how such appeals are dealt with by the Court of Appeal.

David

EDIT: A further article on the subject updates the position: Appealing a confiscation order out of time.

(Note: This article applies to confiscation orders under the provisions of Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales. There are a number of additional issues which could be relevant to a defendant’s confiscation order in particular cases which it is not possible to deal with in a relatively short article such as this. Appropriate professional advice should be sought in each individual case.)

The Court of Appeal decision in Ahmad & Ahmed v R

Last month the Court of Appeal slashed the largest confiscation orders ever made in England & Wales.  The Crown Court had made orders of over £92 million each against Shakeel Ahmad and Syed Ahmed.  The Court of Appeal cut each order to just over £16 million, Ahmad & Ahmed v R [2012] EWCA Crim 391.  But in doing so did the Court of Appeal properly apply the wording of the legislation or did it allow itself to be excessively influenced by what it believed to be the underlying objective of confiscation?

The confiscation orders were made under the confiscation provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which are in many respects very similar to the confiscation provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.  The statutory ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions did not apply to these defendants, who had each been convicted of a single count of ‘conspiracy to cheat the public revenue’ in relation to a massive VAT ‘carousel’ fraud (more correctly a Missing Trader Intra Community VAT fraud, or MTIC fraud).  The fraud had involved transactions, and movements of monies, between various companies under the control of the appellants.

The key to the fraud is that the exporting company, under normal VAT rules, is eligible to obtain a refund from HM Revenue & Customs of the VAT it has paid on its purchase of the goods which it exports

Essentially the fraud operated in this way.  High value goods were imported into the UK by one company, then sold to another, and another, and ultimately re-exported to the overseas company which had supplied them in the first place.  Sometimes the entire chain of transactions were completed in a single day.  The intermediate companies are known as ‘buffer companies’.  The key to the fraud is that the exporting company, under normal VAT rules, is eligible to obtain a refund from HM Revenue & Customs of the VAT it has paid on its purchase of the goods which it exports.  But if the company from which it has purchased those goods dishonestly fails to make payment to HMRC of the VAT it charged when selling the goods to the exporter, then HMRC will be out of pocket and the fraudsters will reap the benefit.

The appellants had been involved in 32 very large transactions in a period of less than 3 weeks.  These had resulted in VAT refunds of over £12 million.

In the confiscation proceedings it was accepted that the court was entitled to ‘pierce the veil’ of incorporation of a company used by the fraudsters.  It was held that they each had jointly obtained what the company had obtained.

 

The difficulty

Where the difficulty arises is that this company received monies which reflected the value of the goods plus the VAT on them.  The Crown Court judge made a finding that it was “a necessary part of the deception on HMRC that an amount representing the value of the goods and the VAT thereon should pass through the [bank] accounts of the buffer companies”.

The judge made a confiscation order reflecting not just the VAT lost to HMRC, but the £72 million value of the bank transactions

The Crown Court judge therefore made a confiscation order reflecting not just the £12 million VAT lost to HMRC, but reflecting the £72 million value of the bank transactions – in other words based on the value of the goods plus the VAT on them.  The issue on appeal was whether the Crown Court judge had been right to do that.

The relevant legislation, s71(4) Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that “a person benefits from an offence if he obtains property as a result of or in connection with its commission and his benefit is the value of the property so obtained”.  The Crown Court judge held that the full amount passing through the bank account was ‘obtained as a result of or in connection with’ the offence.

The Court of Appeal disagreed and found that only the VAT was ‘obtained as a result of or in connection with’ the offence.  The remaining monies were the costs incurred in committing the offence rather than benefit obtained from the offence.

 

Which court was right?

I am bound to say that I think both courts came to an incorrect figure of benefit.

I would have looked at the issue from a different perspective

I would have looked at the issue from a different perspective.  It seems to me that the bank transactions were a necessary and integral ingredient of the fraud.  The bank transactions, in my view, were made as a result of or in connection with the offence.

I have considered what is meant by ‘as a result of or in connection with’ in an earlier article on this blog HERE.

But I do not believe the appellants can properly be said to have ‘obtained’ monies which they already had.  Neither the Crown Court nor the Court of Appeal appears to have found it necessary to consider where the monies needed to conduct the fraud came from.  Furthermore, there is a suggestion in the judgment of the Court of Appeal that monies were recycled and used repeatedly in the course of the 32 transactions.  So the monies actually ‘obtained’ by the appellants could be very considerably less than the £72 million figure used by the Crown Court judge.

The Court of Appeal did not find it necessary to consider those aspects further – which was unfortunate in my view.  The consequence is, I would suggest, that the aggregate amount ‘obtained’ by the appellants as a result of or in connection with the offence remains unknown.  It will not be less than the loss incurred by HMRC but may be greater than that figure depending upon the amounts and sources of the other monies employed in the fraud.

David

UPDATE : This case was the subject of an appeal to the UK Supreme Court.  Comments on the Supreme Court judgment can now be found in my newer blog articles “UK Supreme Court rules on benefit obtained jointly” and “Supreme Court caps confiscation enforcement“.

Just how is PoCA confiscation supposed to work?

The UK Supreme Court recently heard 3 days of complex legal submissions about a straightforward confiscation case.  Four eminent counsel suggested half a dozen wildly differing figures for the benefit arising from a single mortgage fraud.  Obviously the operation of confiscation under Part 2, Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is neither simple nor straightforward.  There is a conspicuous lack of clarity and certainty in the confiscation regime.

The appellant, Mr Waya, contested the finding of the Court of Appeal that he pay £1.11 million – R v Waya [2010] EWCA Crim 412.  That was a reduction on the figure originally ordered in the Crown Court of £1.54 million.  His counsel suggested the correct figure was nil – or on an alternative basis it might be £0.255 million.  Counsel for the prosecution contended the Court of Appeal had the correct figure.  But counsel for the Home Department proposed a figure of £0.6 million and counsel for the Attorney General put the figure at £1.0 million.  Each of these figures was said to be based on applying the same statute law to the undisputed facts of the case.

Mr Waya dishonestly obtained a mortgage advance which he used to purchase a flat.  The flat went up in value . . .

The facts are these.  Mr Waya dishonestly obtained a mortgage advance which he used to purchase a flat.  The flat went up in value.  He legitimately obtained a new and larger mortgage, repaying the first mortgage in full.  The flat continued to increase in value.  Mr Waya was convicted of mortgage fraud (in relation to the original mortgage), or more accurately he was convicted of obtaining a money transfer by deception contrary to s15A Theft Act 1968, and was then subject to confiscation under PoCA 2002.  The sole question before the court was the amount of his benefit from the mortgage fraud (referred to as the benefit of his ‘particular criminal conduct’).

There were striking differences of principle in the approach of different counsel to the interpretation of PoCA 2002 as well as some different interpretations of the facts of the case.

 

The submissions of Mr Waya’s counsel

Mr Waya’s counsel put forward four alternative arguments.  Firstly he said that, on careful consideration of the facts, Mr Waya had not obtained anything when the mortgage was advanced since he had never been in control of the monies advanced.  He was never in a position to use the monies for whatever he might have wanted (they could only be used towards the purchase cost of the flat).

Secondly, Mr Waya (if he did obtain something) had obtained something of no market value.  He had not obtained a gift, he had obtained a loan.  The obligation to repay was integral to the money transfer – and the market value of the combination of the monies advanced to him and the repayment obligation was nil.  This result flowed from s79(3) PoCA 2002.

The courts should not take a ‘snapshot’ view but instead “the entirety of the transaction” had to be considered

Thirdly the courts should not, Mr Waya’s counsel contended, take a ‘snapshot’ view (considering only what happened when the mortgage was advanced) but instead “the entirety of the transaction” had to be considered.  The lender had been repaid in full and had lost nothing as a consequence of Mr Waya’s dishonesty.  So, looking at the entirety of the transaction, there was no benefit for the purposes of confiscation.

Fourthly, as a final alternative, the courts should look to the ‘pecuniary advantage’ derived by Mr Waya in accordance with s76(5).  He had been assisted in the purchase of the flat which had subsequently increased in value.  His counsel had calculated the value of his ‘pecuniary advantage’ to be £255,000.

The House of Lords had taken a wrong turning many years ago when it was said that “subsequent events are to be ignored”

Mr Waya’s counsel conceded that his proposal that the court should look to “the entirety of the transaction” rested on his view that the House of Lords had taken something of a wrong turning many years ago in the confiscation case of R v Smith [2001] UKHL 68 when it was said at para [23] that “subsequent events are to be ignored”.  That may be correct where, in the drug trafficking legislation, the benefit for confiscation purposes was to be based on the ‘payment or reward received’ – but it was not the correct approach to confiscation under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or PoCA 2002 provisions where benefit was based on what had been ‘obtained as a result of or in connection with the criminal conduct’.

In consequence, it was contended, very many confiscation cases had been wrongly decided by courts at every level in England & Wales since that time.

 

The submissions of other counsel

Counsel for the prosecution, on the other hand, contended that the Court of Appeal had come to the correct conclusion in respect of Mr Waya’s confiscation.  Furthermore, with a very few exceptions, appeal courts had come to correct conclusions in confiscation cases over the years.  It was right to ignore subsequent events.  In particular the Court of Appeal had correctly decided in the case of CPS v Rose [2008] EWCA Crim 239 that s79(3) should not have the effect of causing the victim’s interest in any property to reduce the defendant’s benefit in confiscation in connection with his criminal conduct – although there are no words to that effect in the statute.

A defendant should not be entitled to rely on his own crime to limit the benefit of that crime for the purposes of confiscation

Counsel for the Home Department and for the Attorney General suggested a slightly different principle to be drawn from the Rose case.  This was that a defendant should not be entitled to rely on his own crime to limit the benefit of that crime for the purposes of confiscation.  In consequence, it was contended a thief or handler of stolen goods was to be treated as if he had obtained the value of good title to the stolen goods and where, as a result of criminal conduct, property had been obtained jointly by offenders then each of them was to be treated as obtaining the value of the whole of the property jointly obtained.  Again, of course, there are no words to that effect in the statute.

It will probably be 2 or 3 months before we will learn the Supreme Court’s decision in this case.  [UPDATE – Judgment in the Waya case was handed down on 14 November 2012, see below.]  But whatever that decision is I suggest that there will continue to be serious difficulties with the practical application of the confiscation regime – not least because this case did not touch at all on the consequences of the statutory ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions.

David

P.S. I have prepared a summary of the detailed legal submissions by counsel to the UK Supreme Court in R v Waya which is on Criminal Solicitor Dot Net HERE.

UPDATE:

The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in the case, which is discussed in a new blog post R v Waya – the UK Supreme Court judgment.

Confiscation – the second time around

For most people being subject to confiscation proceedings once is bad enough – but a small number of people who have been subject to confiscation find themselves convicted of further offences later in life and are then subject to confiscation for a second time based on those later convictions.  Suppose that in both cases the figure of ‘benefit’ is to be calculated incorporating assumed ‘benefit’ arising under statutory assumptions.  How are the rules of confiscation adapted to fit this situation?

How are the rules of confiscation adapted to fit this situation?  The position is best explained with an illustrative example.

The position is best explained with an illustrative example.  Let’s say Jim has old convictions relating to thefts from his employer some year ago.  Jim has lived in England all his life.  In June 2003 he was convicted of several counts of theft and false accounting over a period commencing in 2000.  On 18 March 2004 a confiscation order was made against Jim under the provisions of Criminal Justice Act 1988 (as amended by Proceeds of Crime Act 1995 and other legislation).  His benefit was £180,000, including assumed benefit under the s72AA CJA 1988 assumptions.  His amount that might be realised (or available amount) was £45,000 and so he was ordered to pay £45,000.  Jim has since paid that £45,000 in full.

Since Jim came out of prison he has been out of work and living on benefits.  However after he had been out of prison for a while Jim was offered regular work part-time, 18 hours each week, with a local business.  He continued to claim benefits without declaring the income from the part-time work.  When this came to light he was interviewed and on 10 November 2009 he was charged with benefit fraud in that he failed to declare a change of circumstances affecting his entitlement to benefit after he started work.  He was subsequently convicted.  The benefit fraud is an offence which continued for at least 6 months and from which he obtained a benefit of at least £5,000.

Jim is now subject to confiscation proceedings under Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 on the basis that he has a ‘criminal lifestyle’ as a result of the benefit fraud offence, see s75(2)(c) & (4).

If Jim had not been subject to confiscation previously the ‘relevant day’ for the commencement of the ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions would be 6 years prior to the date on which he was charged with the offence – that would be 11 November 2003.  But that date falls prior to the date upon which the earlier confiscation order was made.

The effect of the earlier confiscation order made on 18 March 2004 was to fix the total of his ‘benefit’ up to that date.

The effect of the earlier confiscation order made on 18 March 2004 was to fix the total of his ‘benefit’ up to that date.  The later confiscation proceedings do not re-open the earlier ones – and double counting must be avoided.  There would be double counting if the ‘relevant day’ was earlier than the date of the previous confiscation order.

So the ‘relevant day’ for the second confiscation becomes the day on which the previous confiscation order was made – 18 March 2004, by virtue of s10(9)(a), so as to avoid double counting.

Also the assumption in s10(3) concerning property held by the defendant at any time after his conviction cannot be applied to any property held by Jim on or before that ‘relevant day’ (18 March 2004) because that property will have been taken into account in the making of the confiscation order that was made on that day.  Subsection 10(9)(b) modifies the effect of s10(3) accordingly – again to prevent double counting.

Both of these modifications serve to reduce the benefit to be taken into account in Jim’s second confiscation.  But it is not all good news for Jim!

Both of these modifications serve to reduce the benefit to be taken into account in Jim’s second confiscation.  But it is not all good news for Jim!

You recall that on 18 March 2004 the court found his benefit to be £180,000 but he was only ordered to pay £45,000.  Provisions in section 8 ensure that, in the new confiscation, that benefit of £180,000 is deemed to have been established, s8(3) & (4).  Since the benefit now to be taken into account in the new confiscation is Jim’s ‘benefit of his general criminal conduct’, s6(4), and that is defined as all his criminal conduct, s76(2), then the £180,000 is again benefit to be taken into account in the new confiscation proceedings.  In effect Jim cannot challenge that £180,000 of benefit (except by appealling against the earlier confiscation order which is unlikely to be possible so long after it was made).

The only reduction in that £180,000 figure is for the amount which Jim was ordered to pay by the earlier confiscation order – which is the £45,000 – see s8(5).

So the result is that there is established, before any consideration of the benefit derived from the more recent conviction or the operation of the criminal lifestyle assumptions for the period since the earlier confiscation order was made, a benefit equal to the amount which he was not ordered to pay last time around

So the result is that there is established, before any consideration of the benefit derived from the more recent conviction or the operation of the criminal lifestyle assumptions for the period since the earlier confiscation order was made, a benefit in Jim’s case equal to the amount which he was not ordered to pay last time around.  In Jim’s case that is £135,000 (£180,000 benefit less the £45,000 ordered to be paid at the time).  [NOTE:  For an example of this in practice see the judgment in R v Chahal & Chahal [2014] EWCA Crim 101 at paras 21 & 32.]

Would Jim have escaped that consequence if more than 6 years had elapsed between the previous confiscation order and the later offence? No he would not.  Because the definition of ‘general criminal conduct’ covers all Jim’s criminal conduct it makes no difference how many years ago that earlier confiscation order was made.

So being subject to confiscation for a second time is likely to be an unhappy experience.

David

Postscript:

The Court of Appeal in England & Wales recently reduced the figure of ‘benefit’ in a confiscation order from £5,085,222 to £873,010 as a result of the operation of the provisions concerning a defendant’s second ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation, R v Barnett [2011] EWCA Crim 2936.  The court commented that the “statutory material concerning confiscation is somewhat labyrinthine and the process of following the appropriate paths is difficult” but “the path does lead in this case to the conclusion that the “assessment” made on 10 October 2005 [that is to say the figure of benefit in the previous confiscation order] must be taken as fixed for the purposes of any subsequent assessment of benefit”.  As a result the Crown Court could not, on the making of a subsequent confiscation order, reconsider the defendant’s ‘benefit’ arising prior to the date of the previous confiscation order when the courts had been entitled to operate the statutory assumptions in the earlier confiscation proceedings.

Confiscation – under PoCA 2002 or earlier legislation?

When confiscation proceedings are initiated in the Crown Court in England and Wales following the conviction of a defendant an issue can arise as to whether those confiscation proceedings should be under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 or earlier legislation.

On the face of it there should be no difficulty.  This is because article 3(1) of The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Commencement No 5, Transitional Provisions, Savings and Amendment) Order 2003 SI 2003 No 333 says:

“Section 6 of the Act (making of confiscation order) shall not have effect where the offence, or any of the offences, mentioned in section 6(2) was committed before 24th March 2003”.

In addition article 1(3) says:

“Where an offence is found to have been committed over a period of two or more days, or at some time during a period of two or more days, it shall be taken for the purposes of this Order to have been committed on the earliest of those days”.

if any of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted occurred, or commenced, before 24 March 2003 the confiscation should be under the earlier legislation

So it would appear that if any of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted in the proceedings occurred, or commenced, before 24 March 2003 then the confiscation should be under the earlier legislation.

So, in the case of R v Lazarus [2004] EWCA Crim 2297, the defendant appealed a confiscation order made under PoCA 2002 on the basis that one of the offences of which he had been convicted related to being concerned in the supply of cocaine between 1 December 2002 and 7 May 2003.  The Court of Appeal quashed the confiscation order made under PoCA 2002 but substituted a confiscation order under Drug Trafficking Act 1994.

However the matter is not always that straightforward.

In the case of R v Stapleton [2008] EWCA Crim 1308 the Court of Appeal considered another appeal against a confiscation order made under the ‘wrong’ statute.  The confiscation had been conducted under PoCA 2002 although the defendant had been convicted of six Theft Act 1968 offences in all, two of which occurred prior to 24 March 2003.  Ordinarily, in these circumstances, confiscation should have been under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (as amended by the Proceeds of Crime Act 1995).   Nevertheless the Appeal Court held the PoCA 2002 confiscation order to be valid because the Crown had not relied in the confiscation proceedings upon the convictions for the offences which pre-dated the introduction of the PoCA 2002 confiscation provisions.

However it seems to me that the Court of Appeal did not suggest that, in such circumstances, it was preferable for the proceedings to be conducted under the PoCA 2002 provisions.

a convicted defendant may be potentially disadvantaged by the use of the PoCA 2002 provisions

Also, in my view a convicted defendant may be potentially disadvantaged (arguably unfairly) by the use of the PoCA 2002 provisions, rather than earlier legislation, in two respects:

(1)   Under s11 PoCA 2002 the Crown Court has very limited scope to postpone the due date for payment of any sum due under a confiscation order, whereas there is no corresponding statutory time limit under CJA 1988 or under DTA 1994; and

(2)   Under s22 PoCA 2002 a court may take into account, at a later hearing, assets legitimately acquired after the date of the confiscation order and recalculate the defendant’s ‘available amount’, whereas there is no corresponding provision under CJA 1988 (but note that there is a corresponding provision by s16 DTA 1994).

It might therefore be said that the defendant will be unjustly disadvantaged if the Crown are permitted to proceed under PoCA 2002 in the face of the natural meaning of the transitional provisions where the defendant has been convicted in the proceedings of one or more offences which pre-date 24 March 2003.  It could be argued that the use of PoCA 2002 provisions in such circumstances amounts to retrospective application of legislation, possibly in breach of the convicted defendant’s human rights.

Where a defendant is unable to satisfy a confiscation order by the due date – which cannot be later than 12 months from the date of the order under PoCA 2002 – interest commences to run on the amount outstanding at the rate applicable to civil judgment debts (s12 PoCA 2002, s75A CJA 1988, s10 DTA 1994).  The judgment debt interest rate remains at 8% per annum, which is out of line with current commercial interest rates.

there may be a case for arguing that an order made under PoCA 2002 should be replaced

So there may be a case for arguing that an order made under PoCA 2002 should be replaced by an order of a similar amount made under earlier legislation where one or more of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted in the proceedings occurred, or commenced, prior to 24 March 2003.

The Court of Appeal has also had occasion to deal with an error of the opposite type.  In the case of R v Bukhari [2008] EWCA Crim 2915 the defendant appealed against a confiscation order made under CJA 1988 provisions following convictions for offences which occurred after 23 March 2003.  The Court of Appeal quashed the order under CJA 1988 and substituted a confiscation order for the same amount under PoCA 2002.

Ultimately it does appear therefore that a convicted defendant will not be able to escape the consequences of confiscation even where initially the court makes the confiscation order under the ‘wrong’ legislation.

David