Tag Archives: general criminal conduct

Were the Court of Appeal right? A s22 POCA variation case

Scales of justiceA recent Court of Appeal decision on a s22 PoCA 2002 variation gives some food for thought.
The nub of the case presented to the Court concerned the Crown Court judge’s interventions in the cross-examination of a defence witness.  On appeal it was suggested that the judge had gone too far and had effectively become a second prosecution counsel.

But for me the more interesting issues lay elsewhere.

The defendant’s history

The defendant’s history was not in dispute. He had twice been the subject of a confiscation order under PoCA 2002.

On 24 August 2007 Carl O’Flaherty and another person were in a vehicle stopped by police.  The vehicle was searched and 20 small bags and one large bag of cannabis were found.  Mr O’Flaherty’s home was searched and cash contaminated with cannabis was found there.  The defendant pleaded guilty to possession of the cannabis in the vehicle with intent to supply.

On 1 November 2010 a confiscation order was made.  The benefit figure was £30,350.20 and the defendant’s available amount at that time was found to be £5,135.00.  He was ordered to pay £5,135.00.  This was paid in full.

Subsequently in February 2011 it was discovered that Mr O’Flaherty and others had loaded cash onto a Thomas Cook Cash Passport Account throughout 2010 and 2011 in order to launder money.  On 18 January 2013 he was convicted of conspiracy to convert, transfer and remove from England and Wales criminal property.

On 20 December 2013 Mr O’Flaherty was made the subject of a confiscation order comprising benefit of £27,556.06 and available amount of £871.51. This led to a confiscation order for £871.51.  This was paid in part.  At the time of the s22 hearing £120.00 remained outstanding.

In 2016 the Crown identified a residential property held in Mr O’Flaherty’s name.  A restraint order was obtained and an application was made for variation under s22 PoCA 2002.

The s22 hearing

At a hearing on 5 December 2016 the Crown argued that Mr O’Flaherty held a 100% equitable interest in the residential property, which had an agreed value of £65,000, and sought variation of both confiscation orders to require payment of additional amounts and provide new default sentences.

Mr O’Flaherty’s case was that he owed money to his employer, Mr Usta, which should be deducted from the equity in the property in arriving at his available amount.  Mr O’Flaherty had intended to purchase the property for £43,000 with a mortgage from Santander, but Santander pulled out after their surveyor had inspected the property.

Mr O’Flaherty then approached his employer who lent him £30,000 on the understanding that he would be repaid £40,000 after six months (when Mr O’Flaherty expected to have sold the property for £65,000).  There was no written loan agreement or legal charge document.

In the event the property sale did not go through as planned after the restraint order had been obtained.

Mr Usta and Mr O’Flaherty both provided written witness statements and gave oral evidence at the s22 hearing.

It appears that no documentary evidence was put before the Crown Court to confirm the original involvement of Santander, the payment of £30,000 from Mr Usta to the defendant, or the defendant’s employment with Mr Usta (of which apparently HMRC had no record).  Nothing had been filed at the Land Registry concerning Mr Usta’s interest in the property.

The Crown Court judge accepted the prosecution’s submissions, rejected the evidence of the defendant and Mr Usta, and varied both confiscation orders as requested by the Crown.

Mr O’Flaherty appealed, R v O’Flaherty [2018] EWCA Crim 2828.

The issue raised in the appeal

The issue raised at the appeal concerned the judge’s treatment of Mr Usta at the hearing.

When examined in chief Mr Usta had simply confirmed his written statement, setting out that he had lent the defendant £30,000 and expected £40,000 in return, to be true.

The Crown indicated it had no questions for Mr Usta in cross-examination.

Unusually, the judge then asked Mr Usta a series of questions.  The judge was polite, but sceptical.  He asked for clarification of the terms of the loan, why there had been no agreement in writing and no involvement of a solicitor.  The judge also enquired about the lack of evidence of the defendant being employed by Mr Usta and the extent to which Mr Usta was aware of the defendant’s criminal record.

On appeal it was submitted that the judge had acted improperly in challenging the witness on issues which could have been raised by the Crown in cross examination but had not.

The decision on the appeal

The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr O’Flaherty’s appeal (except to the extent that the s22 order was amended to correct a figure which both sides agreed to have been incorrect in the original order).

The Crown Court judge was entitled to efficiently and courteously seek clarification of the defendant’s case and to raise matters with Mr Usta which cried out for challenge.

The Court of Appeal found that the Crown Court judge had exercised considerable self-restraint and simply obtained from Mr Usta confirmation as to what his case was.

The judge’s questions related to matters referred to by Mr Usta in his witness statement.  Had Mr Usta been properly questioned by the prosecution no intervention would have been needed from the judge.  At the end of the judge’s questions he asked counsel for the defendant whether he had questions by way of re-examination and counsel did so.  There was therefore no apparent or real unfairness or bias in the proceedings.

A couple of obvious points

Let’s deal with a couple of obvious points first.

The defence case rested upon the assertion of certain facts, the most fundamental of which was that Mr Usta had lent £30,000 to the defendant – but not even the most basic documentary evidence (the bank statements of the defendant and Mr Usta showing the loan being made) were produced to the court.

A Crown Court deals every day with criminals who tell lies when it suits them.  So supporting evidence is vital.  All the more so when what is being asserted appears unusual.  Whatever relevant documents which could be found should have been produced to the court (in advance of the hearing).

Secondly, to be effective the defendant had to show that he had less than a 100% interest in the property because Mr Usta also had an interest in it.  But it seems that all that was being asserted was that the defendant owed a significant sum of money to Mr Usta.  That, on its own, would not have reduced the defendant’s ‘available amount’ for confiscation purposes (but the agreement of a loan secured on the property would have done).

The standard and burden of proof

It is settled law that at a confiscation hearing the burden is on the defendant to satisfy the court, on the balance of probabilities, that his available amount is less than his benefit.

But what is the position on an application for a variation under s22?

The Court of Appeal held that “The burden of proof was the balance of probabilities and lay with [Mr O’Flaherty]”.

But what does this mean?  I would suggest that what the Court of Appeal meant here was that the Crown had produced evidence sufficient to satisfy the court that the defendant now appeared to have an ‘available amount’ which exceeded the ‘relevant amount’ referred to in s22(8) – which in this case was the ‘available amount’ shown in the original confiscation order.  In that way the Crown had appeared to satisfy the ‘trigger condition’ of s22(4).

That having already been done, the burden of proof was then on the defendant to rebut that or to satisfy the court concerning the amount which it would be ‘just’ to order him to pay (which would normally be based on his current ‘available amount’) to enable the court to vary (or to decline to vary) the confiscation order.

The more interesting issue

The more interesting issue, to me at least, concerns the lack of attention to s8 PoCA 2002 by both the Crown Court (on more than one occasion) and the Court of Appeal.

Looking back at Mr O’Flaherty’s history we can see that the offences of which he was convicted in 2010 (possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply) and 2013 (conspiracy to convert, etc criminal property) were both Schedule 2 ‘criminal lifestyle’ offences.

Section 8 spells out how the court should deal with a defendant who is, for a second time, subject to ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation.

In effect the benefit found in the later confiscation order must include the benefit found in the earlier confiscation order, with a deduction for the amount which the defendant has previously been ordered to pay under that first confiscation order (to avoid double counting).

When making the new confiscation order the court also must not recognise any other alleged benefit obtained by the defendant prior to the date of the earlier confiscation order, see R v Chahal & Chahal [2014] EWCA Crim 101.

So in 2013 when making the new confiscation order the Crown Court should have proceeded in the following way.  Firstly, it should have identified all the benefit obtained by the defendant after 1 November 2010 (the date of the first confiscation order).

That would include both the benefit of his particular criminal conduct obtained after that day and the assumed benefit in relation to, for example, property transferred to the defendant after 1 November 2010.  In effect the ‘relevant day’ for the purposes of the s10 PoCA 2002 assumptions would be 1 November 2010, see s10(9).

In respect of benefit obtained by the defendant on or before 1 November 2010 the Crown Court would be obliged, when making the new order, to accept the benefit figure of £30,350.20 in the earlier order as being a correct statement of ALL the benefit obtained by this defendant from his criminal conduct up to that date.

This £30,350.20 should have been included as benefit within the second confiscation order, but subject to a deduction of £5,135.00 (which is the amount which the defendant had been ordered to pay under the original order).

So there would be £25,215.20 to include in Mr O’Flaherty’s benefit as his total benefit obtained up to 1 November 2010, and this should have been included in the benefit figure in the 2013 confiscation order.

The original order would then in effect cease to operate (except in respect of any action to enforce collection of the £5,135.00 previously ordered to be paid).

If subsequently the Crown wished to proceed under s22 it would do so only under the second confiscation order (as the unpaid benefit under the first order would be included within the benefit figure in the second order).

It seems clear that the Crown Court when making the second order in 2013 failed to do this.

When in 2016 the Crown Court considered the s22 application it could, in my view at least, have been argued that in consequence of s8 the 2013 order must be viewed as including ALL the benefit obtained by Mr O’Flaherty up to 20 December 2013.  On that basis it would not be open to the Crown Court to entertain any application under s22 in respect of the first confiscation order.

However there is nothing to suggest that this argument was put at that time or that the Crown Court’s attention was drawn to s8 on this occasion either.

Again when the s22 variation was appealed s8 could have been discussed.  But there is nothing in the Court of Appeal judgment to suggest that s8 was referred to in legal submissions or oral argument before the Court.

Perhaps if it had been the outcome would have been different.

As things have turned out it is difficult to conclude that Mr O’Flaherty has suffered any major injustice.  It might be more accurate to suggest that he has failed to gain the advantage of a peculiarity in confiscation law.

As an aside, it would have been open to the prosecution in 2013, before the second confiscation order was made, to have made an application to the Crown Court under s21 PoCA 2002 to have the benefit figure in the 1 November 2010 confiscation order increased to reflect new information (concerning the money laundering offending which apparently occurred throughout 2010) which had come to light.

Had that been done then the benefit to be included within the second order would have been able to fully reflect Mr O’Flaherty’s benefit obtained up to 1 November 2010.

In my view that would have been the proper way to deal with Mr O’Flaherty’s case.

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 – the basics

photo 123 - copyright David Winch 2014This post aims to be an introduction to the basics of confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England & Wales.  It includes links to more detailed articles dealing with particular elements of confiscation law (shown like this).

A word of warning.  An introduction like this can be broadly correct but cannot cover the full detail of the legislation nor can it cover those unusual circumstances which may be exceptions to the general guidance contained here.

Be warned too that words and phrases used in confiscation often have a specific technical meaning which is not the same as their meaning in everyday English conversation.  That applies particularly to terms such as ‘benefit’, ‘criminal lifestyle’ and ‘available amount’.

 

When does confiscation apply?

Confiscation proceedings can only be commenced when a defendant has been convicted (either in the Crown Court or Magistrates’ Court) of one or more offences from which he has obtained a benefit.  All confiscation proceedings in England & Wales are conducted in the Crown Court in front of a judge but without a jury.

A wide range of offences can form the basis for confiscation proceedings, including offences such as theft, fraud, drugs offences, money laundering and tax evasion. However confiscation orders are not imposed in every case in which a defendant obtains a benefit. In the year to 31 March 2013 approximately 673,000 persons were convicted of an offence (not all of which involved any benefit being obtained) but only 6,392 confiscation orders were imposed.

Confiscation proceedings are initiated by the prosecution.  There are no published criteria specifying when confiscation proceedings will be initiated.  Where the defendant has obtained a benefit from an offence of which he has been convicted and the prosecution ask for confiscation proceedings to be initiated the court has no discretion to refuse.

The legislation is intended to deprive defendants of the benefit they have gained from relevant criminal conduct, whether or not they have retained such benefit, within the limits of their available means.  The benefit gained is the total value of the property or advantage obtained, not the defendant’s net profit after deduction of expenses.

 

The court procedure

Whilst the judge can make a confiscation order at the time of sentencing a convicted defendant, in many cases the judge will at that time simply set a timetable for further steps towards confiscation.

This normally involves firstly a requirement for the defendant to supply detailed information about his financial affairs; secondly the prosecution to provide a report identifying the amount of benefit said to have been obtained by the defendant and (usually) identifying his ‘available amount‘ (this is referred to as the s16 statement); thirdly the defendant is required to respond to the prosecution’s report indicating the extent to which he agrees and disagrees with it; and finally there will be a hearing scheduled which will culminate in the making of the confiscation order.

In practice the initial timetable may be revised if difficulties or delays arise so these steps may take months, or even years, to complete.

Evidence which would be inadmissible at trial may be admitted in confiscation proceedings.

 

The three decisions

Assuming that the defendant has obtained a benefit from an offence of which he has been convicted, the court then has three key decisions to make.

  • Firstly what benefit has the defendant obtained from the offence or offences of which he has been convicted (including any other offences ‘taken into consideration’ when sentencing)?
  • Secondly, if the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘, what benefit is he to be assumed to have obtained in addition to the benefit obtained from the offence or offences of which he has been convicted?
  • Thirdly what is his ‘available amount‘?

In confiscation proceedings the burden of proof generally rests upon the defendant rather than the prosecutor – particularly in rebutting the statutory assumptions where the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ and in satisfying the court that the defendant has an ‘available amount‘ which is less than his ‘benefit’.  In each case the court will make its decision on the basis of the ‘balance of probabilities’, see s6(7) PoCA 2002.

 

Benefit obtained from the offence

The legal position is that a person obtains a benefit from criminal conduct if he obtains ‘property’ (which means an asset of any description) or a pecuniary advantage as a result of or in connection with that criminal conduct, see s76 PoCA 2002.

Sometimes the benefit obtained from the offence is quite obvious.  If I steal £10,000 from your bank account I have obviously obtained a benefit of £10,000.

But in many cases the benefit obtained will be less obvious.  For example if John is a member of a group of people and is convicted of conspiracy to supply controlled drugs there may be a number of issues arising concerning the extent of John’s involvement in the conspiracy and the valuation of the drugs.  If Peter has obtained a mortgage advance dishonestly his benefit will be a proportion of the increase in value of the property since he purchased it.

However the courts will always be looking to the benefit “obtained” – not the benefit “retained”.  Where the court is satisfied that a particular benefit has been obtained jointly by more than one person it will treat each person as having obtained the whole of that benefit – but will place a cap on the overall recovery of jointly obtained benefit from the different defendants.

 

Assumed benefit of criminal lifestyle

In many cases the defendant will be held to have a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ and this will trigger the statutory assumptions set out in s10 PoCA 2002.  The effect may be to increase very substantially the defendant’s total alleged benefit.

These assumptions relate to the defendant’s receipts and payments since the ‘relevant day’ (normally the day six years before the day on which he was charged with the offence) up to the day on which the court makes the confiscation order (but in practice the assumptions are usually applied only up to an earlier date for convenience) and the defendant’s assets held at any time after the date of his conviction (whenever they were first obtained).

A defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ if the criteria set out in s75 are satisfied, but not otherwise.  The criteria relate to the offence or offences of which the defendant has been convicted – they do not relate to his ‘lifestyle’ in the everyday sense of that word.

It is in ‘criminal lifestyle‘ cases in which the services of a forensic accountant may prove particularly valuable in challenging the prosecutor’s s16 statement.

There is an obvious danger of excessive benefit figures and double counting where the ‘criminal lifestyle‘ assumptions are made.

 

The defendant’s available amount

The defendant’s ‘available amount‘ includes all his assets currently held (with a deduction for liabilities secured on those assets) and the current value of any ‘tainted gifts’ he has made, see s9 and s81 PoCA 2002.

The court will not consider, for the purpose of determining the defendant’s ‘available amount‘, whether those assets which he currently holds were obtained legitimately or not – that does not matter at this stage.

 

The confiscation order

In order to reach its decisions the court may hold a hearing at which oral and written evidence from both sides will be presented.

However in many confiscation cases the prosecution and defence will negotiate agreed figures for ‘benefit’ and ‘available amount‘ prior to the scheduled hearing of oral evidence.  In that event there will be only a brief hearing before the judge at which he will be invited to approve the agreed figures which then become the basis for the confiscation order.

Before finalising the order the court may need to consider whether the application of the statutory assumptions has created a serious risk of injustice and whether the proposed order would be disproportionate and infringe the defendant’s human rights.

Only very rarely will the amount of the confiscation order be limited to the profit arising from the criminal conduct.

The court will normally order the defendant to pay, within a specified period of time, a sum of money equal to the lower of (a) his total benefit and (b) his available amount.

If the court has no information from which it is able to conclude on the balance of probabilities that the defendant has an ‘available amount‘ which is less than his total ‘benefit’ it will make a confiscation order in the amount of the ‘benefit’.

Where the court accepts that the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ is less than his total ‘benefit’ a brief list of the assets which form the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ should be appended to the confiscation order issued by the court.

The court will typically allow up to six months for payment (from 1 June 2015 this is limited to three months as a result of amendments to confiscation law).  The court will also set a default sentence, which is a period of imprisonment the defendant may be required to serve if he does not pay the required sum.

The defendant may subsequently return to court to ask for a six month extension to the time to pay, making a maximum of 12 months in all from the date of the confiscation order (from 1 June 2015 this is limited to a further three months making six months in all from the date of the confiscation order).

Interest is charged on any amount which remains outstanding after the due date for payment, s12.

 

Appeals

Either prosecution or defence may appeal against the confiscation order.  Appeal is to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) and ultimately to the Supreme Court.  An appeal ought to be initiated within 28 days of the confiscation order but late appeals may be heard in some circumstances.

 

Subsequent events

Where a confiscation order has been made in the amount of the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ and subsequent realisation of his assets identified in the confiscation order produces a lesser amount than anticipated, the defendant (or the prosecution) can apply to the court under s23 to have the amount of the defendant’s confiscation order reduced to reflect his revised ‘available amount‘ based on the actual amounts realised.

Where evidence comes to light which was not available to the prosecution at the time of the confiscation hearing which indicates that the defendant’s benefit was greater than that found by the court at that hearing the prosecution can, within 6 years of the date of conviction, apply to the court for the benefit figure to be increased under s20 or s21.

Where a confiscation order has been made in the amount of the defendant’s ‘available amount‘ (which was less than his benefit) the prosecution can apply to the court, at any time, for an order under s22 requiring the defendant to pay a further amount where he has a current ‘available amount‘ which would enable him to satisfy a new order – but he may not be required to pay an amount more than the court believes to be just.  In that sense a confiscation order may be regarded as a ‘life sentence’.

Where only a small balance remains outstanding on a confiscation order the court may discharge the order under s24 or  s25.

Where, following a fresh conviction on a subsequent occasion, a defendant finds himself subject to confiscation proceedings a second time the usual rules may be modified on the second time around.

 

Other confiscation topics

Other confiscation topics, such as restraint orders, the impact of bankruptcy on confiscation and adjustments for changes in the value of money are covered in further articles in this blog.  A full list of confiscation articles is here.

 

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.)

A confiscation case study – the career fraudster

Books - copyright David Winch 2014On 16 June 2014 the Court of Appeal in London heard the appeal of Mr Sam Ernest against a confiscation order in the sum of £308,380 made against him at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court.  The Appeal Court judgment R v Ernest [2014] EWCA Crim 1312 makes interesting reading.

Mr Ernest purported to run a business as an events organiser.  He would claim to have contacts from whom he could obtain sought-after tickets to popular high profile events, such as Wimbledon, the London Olympics, rock concerts or film festivals, in return for money.

Mr Ernest sometimes provided the tickets for which he had been paid, but often he would not.  When tickets were not provided he would usually promise refunds – on some occasions refunds were given, but on others they were not.

 

The victims

His victims were in the main either wealthy people or organisations who could afford to pay substantial sums of money for prestige events, or men whom he had befriended or women with whom he entered into relationships.

One woman with whom he was having a relationship got a party of 18 people together, some from the USA, to attend events at the London Olympics.  She paid almost £4,000 to Mr Ernest.  He continued to promise that the tickets would arrive right up until after her friends had arrived in the UK.

In total Mr Ernest defrauded his victims of over £48,000.

 

The police investigation

Mr Ernest’s activities had first been reported to the police in 2009, but they took no action at that stage.  It was not until 2012, when a special team of police officers were investigating fraud associated with tickets for the London Olympics, that attention was focused on his activities.

On discovering that the police wished to speak to him, Mr Ernest prevaricated and would not agree to attend for interview.  No doubt this was in part because he was a United States citizen who had entered the UK on a six month tourist visa in 2005 and was an illegal over-stayer. His passport had expired in 2010.

However in December 2012 Mr Ernest pleaded guilty to 17 counts of fraud and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.  Confiscation proceedings followed.

 

The confiscation proceedings

Mr Ernest was subject to confiscation proceedings on the basis that he had a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ having been convicted in the same proceedings of more than 3 offences from which he had obtained a benefit and had, in aggregate, obtained a benefit of at least £5,000, s75 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

The Appeal Court judgment does not, of course, give a full history of the confiscation proceedings.  We do not know what was in the prosecution’s s16 statement or in Mr Ernest’s response.  We do know, however, that the confiscation went to a full hearing in the Crown Court which heard evidence from a Detective Constable Knowles and from Mr Ernest.

 

The prosecution assertions

DC Knowles referred to bank accounts held by a Ms Barbara Howell which had apparently been used by Mr Ernest (and by Ms Howell for legitimate purposes).  There was also a bank account in the name of J Bailey Morgan which apparently Mr Ernest controlled.  DC Knowles considered the movements on these bank accounts since the ‘relevant day’, which it was agreed was 29 August 2006 (six years prior to the date on which Mr Ernest had been charged).

DC Knowles calculated the amount of money in these accounts paid in by known victims together with all of the unexplained credits to the accounts, that is all the monies deposited during the relevant period other than those which represented Ms Howell’s legitimate earnings and funds. This figure came to £209,980. This figure included sums specifically identified as being monies paid into that account by persons identified as victims of Mr Ernest’s activities.

The prosecution invited the court to assume all these sums credited to the various bank accounts to be benefit of Mr Ernest’s general criminal conduct pursuant to s10(2).  Presumably to avoid risk of double counting the prosecution did not seek to assert, as benefit of particular criminal conduct, any additional benefit of the 17 offences of which Mr Ernest had been convicted.

However the prosecution did assert that a further assumed benefit arose, under s10(4), in respect of Mr Ernest’s day to day living expenses over the period since the ‘relevant day’.  These were estimated at £16,400 per year for 6 years, so £98,400 in total.  The prosecution accepted that to some extent Mr Ernest had been financially supported over this period by a succession of girlfriends but contended that, even so, he would have incurred this £98,400 expenditure himself.

In consequence, the prosecution’s total benefit figure was £308,380.  The prosecution apparently did not accept that Mr Ernest’s ‘available amount’ would be less than his benefit.

 

The defence evidence

Mr Ernest asserted that on at least some occasions he had supplied tickets for which he had been paid and on other occasions he had made refunds to customers.  So it would not be correct, in his view, to treat the entirety of the sums banked as benefit.  He also asserted that he had no assets available and no hidden assets.

However the defence produced no books and records of the business and no report of a forensic accountant, nor did the defence produce documentary evidence of Mr Ernest’s current ‘available amount’.  The defence relied upon the oral evidence of Mr Ernest.

 

The judgment in the Crown Court

The Crown Court judge entirely rejected the oral evidence of Mr Ernest.  He was, the judge concluded, a “career fraudster” who had used the bank accounts of others and had produced no documents in support of his oral evidence.  The judge concluded that he was a dishonest man who had lied repeatedly under oath.

The judge accepted the benefit figure of £308,380 asserted by the prosecution and found that the defendant had not discharged the burden upon him to show that his ‘available amount’ was less than his benefit.

Accordingly he ordered Mr Ernest to pay £308,380 within 6 months, with a default sentence of 3 years consecutive to the prison term he was already serving.

 

The Court of Appeal judgment

On appeal it was argued that the judge should have reduced the benefit figure to reflect legitimate business activities conducted by Mr Ernest where he had provided tickets or had made refunds.  Furthermore Mr Ernest had incurred expenditures in obtaining the tickets which he had supplied.

The Court of Appeal would have none of this.  It noted the absence of evidence in support of the asserted legitimate activities and commented that “the fact that some unidentified proportion of that money might conceivably be referable to some specific (but unidentified) business transaction does not render the making of the assumption incorrect”.

The Court was not prepared to make any reduction in the benefit figure in respect of expenses which Mr Ernest might have incurred.  It regarded the occasional provision of tickets by Mr Ernest as a means of furthering his fraudulent purpose by luring customers to do more business with him.

The £209,980 assumed benefit arising from credits to the bank accounts was therefore upheld.

But the Court of Appeal did accept that the bank statements showed expenditures by Mr Ernest on his living costs.  These expenditures had therefore been met from monies already included in assumed benefit.  This undermined the prosecution’s assertion that Mr Ernest would have incurred £98,400 of living expenditure funded entirely by additional assumed criminal conduct.  There was no other suitable figure before the court, so this head of benefit was omitted on appeal.

In consequence the benefit figure was reduced to £209,980.  The court ordered Mr Ernest to pay this lower figure and reduced the default sentence to 2 years 6 months.

 

Commentary

One doesn’t know whether in this case the defence had instructed a forensic accountant or not.  It is possible that a forensic accountant’s report had been obtained but had not been disclosed as part of the defence evidence (perhaps for good reason!).

However it should come as no surprise to find a Crown Court judge entirely rejecting the unsupported oral evidence of a convicted defendant.  Possibly if a forensic accountant had given evidence in the Crown Court confiscation hearing the judge might have accepted that the defendant, having incurred the expenses shown on the bank accounts, would not have had an ‘available amount’ equal to the total of his assumed benefit.  Such a conclusion would have been consistent with the Court of Appeal decision in McIntosh & Marsden v R [2011] EWCA Crim 1501.

In the event this defendant seems destined to serve his default sentence in due course.

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.)

Supreme Court caps confiscation enforcement

Supreme Court logoThe UK Supreme Court has capped confiscation enforcement in cases where more than one confiscation order covers the same joint benefit.  The result is that the State will be unable to recover in excess of 100% of the benefit jointly obtained.  It is as if the confiscation order created a joint and several liability of the defendant to ‘repay’ the benefit jointly obtained.

The principle is simple – but the practical implications may on occasion be complex.

In fact the Supreme Court judgment on 18 June 2014 in the cases of R v Ahmad & Ahmed and R v Fields & Others [2014] UKSC 36 dealt with another point too – confirming that under the law of confiscation if two or more persons obtain a benefit jointly they each obtain the whole of it.  That point is considered in a separate blog article.

 

The problem

The problem may best be understood by a simple example.  Suppose John and Jim get a couple of guns, walk into a bank together and rob it of £10,000.  Subsequently they are caught and convicted and are made subject to confiscation orders.  In those confiscation orders each of John and Jim will have a benefit of £10,000.  Assuming each of them has sufficient assets it seems that in total they will be required to ‘repay’ £20,000 into court.  So, it appears, the court will recover twice the amount stolen.

The Supreme Court concluded that that could not be right.  Recovering double the amount stolen would be disproportionate.  It would not serve the real aims of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and it would be a violation of the defendants’ rights under Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

The simple answer

The simple answer is to require each of the confiscation orders against John and Jim to provide that it is not to be enforced to the extent that a sum has been recovered by way of satisfaction of another confiscation order made in relation to the same joint benefit.

This is what the Supreme Court held in its judgment at para [74].

So if the court recovers £5,000 from John it will only recover a further £5,000 from Jim.  Of course that means if the court recovers £10,000 from John then it will recover nothing from Jim, but the Supreme Court said that criminals have to accept that risk of unfairness.

 

Potential complications

Although the principle is clear and the reason for it is straightforward, its application in practice may be more complicated.

Suppose that as well as John and Jim robbing the bank there was a getaway driver, Jack.  Let’s suppose Jack was not caught at the time, but a good while later he is caught and convicted.  If he is subject to confiscation then presumably he cannot be liable to pay anything if the court has already received £10,000 from John and Jim.  So that is a bit of luck for Jack!

Let’s consider some other defendants.  Peter and Phil are fraudsters operating a fake business in which they order goods on credit, sell them and disappear – pocketing the money and never paying their suppliers.  Peter and Phil had a joint bank account for the fake business which received £50,000 from customers over a period of just under one year.

Peter and Phil are caught, convicted of fraudulent trading contrary to s9 Fraud Act 2006 and subject to confiscation.  In the confiscation proceedings each of them has a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ having been convicted of an offence carried on for at least 6 months from which a benefit of at least £5,000 has been obtained, s75 PoCA 2002.

Peter and Phil each have a benefit of £50,000 from the offence of which they have been convicted.  But that is not the end of the story.

The separate personal bank accounts which Peter and Phil have are examined and the statutory criminal lifestyle assumptions are applied.  There are £70,000 unexplained credits in Peter’s bank account and £25,000 unexplained credits in Phil’s bank account.  In consequence the court finds Peter’s total benefit for confiscation purposes to be £120,000 and Phil’s total benefit to be £75,000.

Peter’s available amount is £80,000 and Phil’s is £45,000.  So the court makes confiscation orders against Peter for £80,000 and against Phil for £45,000.

If Peter pays the £80,000 and Phil pays nothing, can enforcement proceedings still be taken against Phil?  If they can, how much can be enforced against Phil?  I do not think the Supreme Court judgment helps me answer these questions because I need to know how much of the £80,000 recovered from Peter relates to the £50,000 benefit jointly obtained and how much of it relates to the other £70,000 assumed benefit of Peter’s.

For example if the £80,000 recovered from Peter includes all the £50,000 jointly obtained benefit of the fraud then the most that can be enforced against Phil is his additional assumed benefit of £25,000.

But, at the other extreme, if the £80,000 recovered from Peter comprises £70,000 re his additional assumed benefit and only £10,000 re the jointly obtained benefit then it would appear that the whole £45,000 can be enforced against Phil (because he still has unrecovered amounts of £40,000 joint benefit and £25,000 additional assumed benefit).

Looking at this another way, if we make a presumption that in each case the first £50,000 of the amounts ordered to be paid by Peter and Phil related specifically to the jointly obtained benefit then the £80,000 paid by Peter has repaid all of the jointly obtained benefit and so (arguably) there can be no enforcement action against Phil.  But that would seem to be a nonsensical outcome.

 

Default sentences

We also need to consider the implications for default sentences.

Going back to John and Jim.  They each had a benefit of £10,000 from the bank robbery.  Let’s assume the confiscation orders against each of them specified a default sentence of 6 months.  If the court recovers £5,000 from John – so it can then only enforce a maximum of £5,000 against Jim – does that result in a corresponding reduction in Jim’s default sentence if he fails to pay?

My guess is that Jim will indeed have his default sentence effectively reduced.  But the Supreme Court judgment does not provide the answer.

Presumably Jack, the getaway driver, cannot be made to serve any default sentence if the court has already recovered the £10,000 from John and Jim.  And what about Phil the fraudster – what is the position regarding his default sentence?

 

In conclusion

It seems to me that in solving one problem the Supreme Court have risked creating further problems in relation to the enforcement of confiscation orders.

If it were decided that any ambiguity should be resolved in favour of the defendants then (i) all recoveries from any defendant should be applied against his benefit jointly obtained in priority to his other benefit, and (ii) each defendant’s default sentence ought to be reduced pro-rata when the amount enforceable against him reduces (whether this arises as a result of a recovery from him or as a result of a recovery from another person relating to benefit obtained jointly with him).

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 – challenging the prosecutor’s s16 statement

Legal wig copyright David Winch 2014How should the defence challenge the prosecutor’s assertions concerning the defendant’s benefit and available amount?

The prosecutor’s s16 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 statement is a key document in confiscation proceedings.  In preparing the s16 statement the prosecution will have considered the offence(s) of which the defendant has been convicted; the evidence at trial (or readied for trial where there has been a guilty plea) and other information collected during investigation of the offence; information provided by the defendant in any statement under s18 or in response to any requirement in a restraint order under s41(7); information obtained from banks and others (perhaps by way of a production order under s345); and the results of the prosecution’s own investigations – probably undertaken by an accredited financial investigator.

 

Variety

Prosecution s16 statements are prepared in a wide variety of circumstances.  No two s16 statements will be the same – though they all have some similarities.  In any event the s16 statement will need careful study.  Typically the body of the s16 statement will run to between 10 and 30 pages with supporting appendices which could run to several hundred pages, and may include spreadsheets.

The s16 statement is likely to include some background narrative which sets the confiscation proceedings into context, including a description of the court proceedings resulting in the conviction and any restraint order which has been obtained.   There may also be information about the defendant (date of birth, previous convictions, etc) and information about his known legitimate income.

The defence legal team will wish to challenge any incorrect factual assertions in that narrative – but this narrative background is not at the heart of the s16 statement.

 

Financial investigations and ‘benefit’

The s16 statement will then move on, probably providing some details about the financial investigations undertaken by the prosecution and their findings about the defendant’s financial affairs.  That leads to the prosecution assertions about the defendant’s ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

In this context ‘benefit’ has a special meaning based on the statutory provisions – it does not refer to what might be the defendant’s benefit in the everyday sense of the word.

 

‘Benefit’ of the offences

The first element of the defendant’s ‘benefit’ which the s16 statement will deal with is the ‘benefit’ of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted, sometimes referred to as the ‘direct benefit’ or the ‘benefit of particular criminal conduct’.  Here the prosecution are considering what the defendant ‘obtained’ as a result of the offences of which he has been convicted in the proceedings which triggered the confiscation.

This may be very easy to establish.  If the defendant has been convicted of, say, stealing a cheque for £10,000 payable to someone else and paying it into his own bank account then the ‘benefit’ of that offence is £10,000 (possibly uplifted for changes in the Retail Prices Index since the date of the theft).

But in many cases the ‘benefit’ of the offence will be less clear cut.  For example there may be theft of cash where there are inadequate records to quantity the amount of cash stolen, or supply of controlled drugs where there are no records of the monies received for the drugs, or the defendant may have been a member of a conspiracy (meaning it will be necessary to ascertain the amount ‘obtained’ by this particular defendant in his role in that conspiracy).

In rare cases the ‘benefit’ may be based on the profit deriving from fundamentally legitimate business operations which have been tainted by criminality, as in the case of R v Sale.

The ‘benefit’ asserted by the prosecution may also include assets which need to be valued, such as controlled drugs seized at the time of the defendant’s arrest.

In other cases the ‘benefit’ may be based on a ‘pecuniary advantage’ arising from the evasion of a liability – for example evasion of income tax, VAT or duties on goods.

In a minority of cases the prosecution may not be asserting that the defendant has obtained any benefit at all from the offences of which he has been convicted.

 

Assumed ‘benefit’

If the prosecution assert that the defendant has a ‘criminal lifestyle’ then the s16 statement will also deal with additional assumed ‘benefit’ which arises under the statutory assumptions of s10 PoCA 2002.  The statutory assumptions apply to the defendant’s receipts and expenditures since the ‘relevant day’ (which is usually 6 years prior to the date on which the defendant was charged with the offences of which he has been convicted) and to any assets held by the defendant since the date of his conviction.

Typically the prosecution will have obtained bank and credit card statements for all known bank and credit card accounts held by the defendant and will have reviewed all deposits to those accounts since the ‘relevant day’.  They may also have information about the defendant’s expenditures since the ‘relevant day’ – for example as a result of examining documents seized from searches of the defendant’s premises or considering information provided by the defendant in recorded interviews or in his s18 statement.  In addition the prosecution may have obtained Land Registry records or solicitors’ conveyancing files regarding property purchases, and mortgage account statements.

These same sources of information may be the basis for assertions of assumed ‘benefit’ in respect of any assets held by the defendant after the date of his conviction.

 

‘Available amount’

Finally the prosecutor’s s16 statement will deal with the defendant’s ‘available amount’.  Again this is a term defined by statute which does not mean simply the amount which the defendant has available to meet the confiscation order.  It refers to the current market value of the defendant’s assets, less any mortgage or other liability which is secured on those assets, plus the current value of any ‘tainted gift’ which the defendant has made.

However many of the defendant’s liabilities, such as unsecured borrowings and unpaid bills, will be ignored when computing the defendant’s ‘available amount’.

 

Default sentence

The s16 statement may conclude with an indication of the range of default sentences applicable where a confiscation order remains unpaid.

 

Challenging the s16 statement

The defence will wish to scrutinise in detail the prosecution assertions in relation to both the defendant’s ‘benefit’ and his ‘available amount’.  The focus of the defence challenge to the prosecutor’s figures will depend very much on the details within the s16 statement.

In relation to the ‘benefit’ of the offences of which the defendant has been convicted the defence will wish to consider the existence of the asserted ‘benefit’; whether it has been ‘obtained’ by the defendant himself, solely or jointly; and whether it is correctly valued.

Regarding the assumed ‘benefit’ the defence will wish to consider whether the criteria for a ‘criminal lifestyle’ have been met; whether the ‘relevant day’ has been correctly identified; the existence of the asserted receipts, expenditures and assets of the defendant himself (which may involve careful consideration of bank accounts and assets held in joint names and consideration of ‘lifting the corporate veil’); any evidence of the legitimate nature of those receipts and legitimate funds used to finance those expenditures and the purchase of those assets; any overlap or double counting between the various heads of asserted ‘benefit’ including, for example, where monies have been withdrawn from one of the defendant’s bank accounts and paid in to another; and the valuation of the various items reflected in the assumed ‘benefit’.

In relation to the asserted ‘available amount’ the defence will again consider the existence of those assets; the ownership of them by the defendant himself so as to exclude any interest of third parties; the current market value of those assets; and the amount of any liabilities secured on those assets.

Particular difficulties may arise where the ‘available amount’ is said to include any ‘tainted gifts’ or ‘hidden assets’.

Ultimately the defence will also wish to consider whether the use of the statutory assumptions involves a ‘serious risk of injustice’ or the confiscation order sought by the prosecution would be disproportionate and so infringe the defendant’s human rights.

All of these matters will feed in to the drafting of a s17 statement to be signed by the defendant and filed in response to the prosecution’s s16 statement, and the defence preparation for the confiscation hearing in the Crown Court.

 

Use of a forensic accountant

A forensic accountant may be able to assist the defence in challenging a number of aspects of the s16 statement.  This is likely to be particularly important in cases involving ‘assumed benefit’ under the ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions.  A forensic accountant may be better placed than the solicitor to undertake detailed examination of the figures and financial documents underlying the prosecution’s s16 assertions.

The cost of a forensic accountant’s report will normally be met by criminal legal aid under prior authority arrangements.

As a first step it is advisable to ask the forensic accountant to provide a fee quotation (to be forwarded to the Legal Aid Agency with an application for prior authority).  In order to prepare his quotation the forensic accountant should ideally be provided with a copy of the body of the prosecutor’s s16 statement, an approximate page count of the appendices to that statement, a copy of the defendant’s s18 statement, any advice which may have been obtained from counsel in relation to the s16 statement, and a note of the court timetable for the submission of the defendant’s response in the form of a s17 statement.

Where the appendices to the s16 statement include spreadsheets it is usual to ask the prosecution to supply electronic copies of the Excel spreadsheets (not the PDFs) either on disc or as email attachments.

Once the prior authority has been obtained the forensic accountant’s work can get underway!

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.)

Criminal lifestyle confiscation and output VAT

The Court of Appeal have recently handed down a judgment in the ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation case of R v Harvey [2013] EWCA Crim 1104.

This was a case in which I had been instructed by the defendant’s solicitors in the confiscation proceedings in the Crown Court.

 

Background

The defendant was a director and majority shareholder in a limited company engaged in hire of plant and equipment (sometimes with drivers, sometimes just the plant itself).

A number of items of plant used by the company were found to be stolen property and the defendant pleaded guilty to 9 counts of ‘handling’ contrary to s22 Theft Act 1968.  A further 30 counts were left to lie on the file.

The defendant was subject to confiscation under PoCA 2002 on the basis that he had a ‘criminal lifestyle’ and that the veil of incorporation of the company should be pierced.

 

Benefit for confiscation purposes

The prosecution contention initially in a statement under s16 PoCA 2002 was that the entirety of the gross receipts of the company (inclusive of VAT) since the ‘relevant day’ constituted assumed ‘benefit’ of the defendant for the purposes of confiscation.

By the time of the hearing in the Crown Court the prosecution had changed its position.  Whilst it was unable to put a figure on the proportion of company receipts which were derived from criminal conduct, it was significant that the police had inspected 91 items of plant (both large and small) and considered 39 of those items to be stolen property (that is approximately 42.8% on an ‘item count’ basis).

 

The decision in the Crown Court

At Crown Court the judge held that 38% of the company’s gross receipts (inclusive of VAT) since the ‘relevant day’ were to be regarded as ‘benefit’.  Those gross receipts included not just trading income but also receipts from the sale of plant.

This 38% figure was based on the 42.8% on an ‘item count’ basis, reduced to recognise the greater earning power of the (legitimate) larger and more expensive items of plant.  The judge concluded that the defendant had known that all 39 items of plant (not just the 9 items in relation to which he had pleaded guilty to ‘handling’) were stolen property.

The Crown Court judge did not accept that he should be guided by a detailed analysis of a representative sample of company sales invoices over the period since the ‘relevant day’ which appeared to show a much smaller proportion of the company’s income was derived from the stolen plant.  He concluded that the defendant was dishonest and his company records did not reflect the entirety of the transactions of the business and so figures based on company records were not persuasive.

The benefit found by the judge was calculated accordingly at approximately £2.2m (based on the value of the 39 stolen items plus 38% of gross receipts of the company since the ‘relevant day’) and he set a default term of 10 years.

 

The appeal to the Court of Appeal

The defendant appealed on the grounds that:

  1. VAT charged to customers and accounted for to HMRC should be excluded from the gross receipts figure.
  2. Stolen plant had been recovered by the police and returned (sometimes after many years of use) to its rightful owners, but no reduction had been made in the benefit figure to reflect this.
  3. The 38% figure was too high on the facts and, in particular, had been applied to all receipts including demonstrably legitimate income from the sale of legitimately acquired plant.
  4. The default sentence of 10 years was excessive.

The Court of Appeal reduced the default term to 8 years but otherwise upheld the confiscation order in full, dismissing the appeal on each of the first three grounds.

The Court of Appeal took the opportunity to review and comment upon various confiscation cases – some very recent, some older – in the light of the decision of the Supreme Court in R v Waya.  In particular the Court of Appeal opined that the decision in R v Del Basso and Goodwin [2010] EWCA Crim 1119 now “does seem excessively harsh and may arguably be characterised as disproportionate”.

Defendants and accountants may be disappointed to note the Appeal Court’s decision (even after the Waya case) that output VAT charged on the (assumed) illegitimate receipts of a legitimate business is to be regarded as a component of benefit in a ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation – even where that output VAT has been properly accounted for and paid over to HMRC.  The Court of Appeal considered that there was nothing in Waya which called into question the manner in which the Court of Appeal in Del Basso dealt with VAT and that therefore Del Basso was binding authority on that point.

But the Court of Appeal in any event approved this approach, commenting, “It would be wrong in principle to carry out an accounting exercise in respect of VAT which [the business] collected through the use of stolen property”.  The total monies paid by customers, including the VAT charged, constituted property obtained by criminal conduct.

[UPDATE:  On 16 December 2015 the UK Supreme Court upheld Mr Harvey’s appeal against this element in the calculation of his benefit for confiscation purposes.  The UKSC held that where VAT has been accounted for to HMRC it would be disproportionate under A1P1 to make a confiscation order calculated on the basis that the VAT, or a sum equivalent, was “obtained” by the defendant for the purposes of PoCA 2002.]

The Court of Appeal’s view must, by implication, be taken to be that they did not consider the confiscation order of £2.2m to be disproportionate in all the circumstances.

David

(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.)

Unprosecuted mortgage fraud in criminal lifestyle confiscations

After the UKSC decision in R v Waya, what is the position of a defendant subject to ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation who has obtained a mortgage advance by fraud but has not been prosecuted for that?

The November 2012 decision of the UK Supreme Court in R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51 dealt with confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 where the defendant had been convicted of mortgage fraud but did not have a ‘criminal lifestyle’ within the meaning of s75 PoCA 2002. But the implications of the judgment go far wider.

This article considers the relatively common situation in which a convicted defendant is subject to confiscation on the basis that he does have a ‘criminal lifestyle’ and it appears that he may have previously obtained a mortgage advance by fraud although he has not been prosecuted for that.

 

A worked example

Let’s take the example of William who is a self-employed engineer. Five years ago he purchased Rose Cottage, a four bedroomed house in an idyllic country location, for £775,000. He put up a 40% deposit from his own legitimate money, that’s £310,000. The remaining 60%, or £465,000, he obtained fraudulently by giving false details of his income to the mortgage lender. Two years ago William got involved in dealing in controlled drugs. He was arrested, charged and convicted of possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply. He is now subject to confiscation proceedings under PoCA 2002 on the basis that he has a ‘criminal lifestyle’.

William still owns Rose Cottage. The outstanding mortgage is still £465,000 – it is an ‘interest only’ mortgage and William has kept up the payments to the lender. The open market value of Rose Cottage is now £1,200,000.

We need to consider the impact of the statutory ‘criminal lifestyle’ assumptions on the calculation of William’s ‘benefit’ (if any) in connection with his ownership of Rose Cottage and the mortgage fraud.

 

The first assumption

The first assumption is found in s10(2) PoCA 2002 which says:
“The first assumption is that any property transferred to the defendant at any time after the relevant day was obtained by him (a) as a result of his general criminal conduct, and (b) at the earliest time he appears to have held it.”

Prior to the UKSC decision in Waya the likelihood is that the court would have treated the £465,000 mortgage advance as “property transferred to the defendant” and therefore an assumed benefit of £465,000 would have arisen from it in William’s confiscation.

However in the light of paragraph [53] of the Supreme Court judgment it now appears to be the case that the £465,000 was not “property transferred to the defendant” and so no benefit can arise under the first assumption in relation to the mortgage fraud.

Similarly any suggestion that Rose Cottage itself should be regarded as property transferred to the defendant “as a result of his general criminal conduct” would run counter to paragraphs [46] and [47] of the Supreme Court judgment in Waya.

But that is not the end of the story, as we need to consider the other assumptions of s10.

 

The fourth assumption

Let’s look at the fourth assumption next – because we need to get that out of the way.  The fourth assumption is found in s10(5) PoCA 2002 which says:

“The fourth assumption is that, for the purpose of valuing any property obtained (or assumed to have been obtained) by the defendant, he obtained it free of any other interests in it.”

But all the assumptions of s10 are subject to s10(6) which says:

“But the court must not make a required assumption in relation to particular property or expenditure if (a) the assumption is shown to be incorrect, or (b) there would be a serious risk of injustice if the assumption were made.”

It seems irrefutable that the mortgage lender has an interest in Rose Cottage and so, to that extent, the fourth assumption is negated because it has been “shown to be incorrect”.  That will be important when we consider the implications of the second assumption.

 

The second assumption

The second assumption is found in s10(3) PoCA 2002 which says:

“The second assumption is that any property held by the defendant at any time after the date of conviction was obtained by him (a) as a result of his general criminal conduct, and (b) at the earliest time he appears to have held it.”

William does hold Rose Cottage, subject to the mortgage lender’s interest in it, after the date of his conviction.  Rose Cottage is now worth £1,200,000 and the outstanding mortgage is £465,000 – so William’s interest in the property is now £735,000 (his ‘equity’ in the property).  That includes an increase in value, or “appreciation”, of £425,000 (the difference between the £775,000 purchase price and the current value of £1,200,000) .

Following the logic applied by (the majority judgment of) the Supreme Court in Waya in paragraphs [70] and [71] of the judgment we can say that, because 40% of the original purchase price was funded by William’s own legitimate funds and 60% was funded by the fraudulently obtained mortgage, only 60% of the “appreciation” is a ‘benefit’ for confiscation purposes.

In relation to the other 40% of the “appreciation” and William’s initial deposit (which was legitimate monies) the second assumption is “shown to be incorrect” on the facts.

So the benefit arising, under the statutory assumptions, in relation to William’s ownership of Rose Cottage and the mortgage fraud is 60% of the “appreciation” of £425,000, which amounts to £255,000.

Note that this conclusion does not depend upon whether the mortgage advance was obtained after the ‘relevant day’ (defined in s10(8) and normally six years prior to the date on which the defendant was charged with the offence of which he has been convicted).

 

Proportionality and serious risk of injustice

The final issue is whether such an outcome would be disproportionate and hence an infringement of William’s human rights under Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights (‘A1P1’).  Since the outcome under the statutory assumptions is the same as that which would have arisen had William been charged with, and convicted of, the mortgage fraud and in the case of Waya the Supreme Court held that this outcome was not disproportionate, then it seems clear that William’s rights under A1P1 have not been infringed.

For similar reasons it appears that this calculation of assumed benefit does not involve a “serious risk of injustice” which would be relevant to s10(6)(b).

Happily this analysis leads to an outcome which is entirely consistent with the outcome in the rather different circumstances of Mr Waya’s case as I have described in an earlier blog article.

As an aside, I am bound to say that any conclusion that a defendant who had NOT been convicted of mortgage fraud should suffer a more severe outcome in confiscation, as a result of the operation of the statutory assumptions, in relation to that mortgage fraud than another defendant who had been convicted of mortgage fraud would be open to attack as involving an unacceptable “serious risk of injustice”.

 

But . . .

But what if the situation had been slightly different?  Suppose William had purchased Rose Cottage with his domestic partner Mary – and Mary had not been convicted of any offence and was not subject to confiscation?

Would Mary’s interest in the equity in Rose Cottage have the effect of halving William’s benefit under the statutory assumptions?  Would it make a difference whether William and Mary owned Rose Cottage as joint tenants or tenants in common?

These issues did not arise in the Waya case.  We may however see these issues aired in future confiscation hearings.

David

(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.)

R v Waya – the UK Supreme Court judgment

The UK Supreme Court judgment in the confiscation case of R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51 has added another layer of complexity to confiscation cases in England & Wales.

The judgment addressed two issues: (i) Where a mortgage is fraudulently obtained how is the benefit of that fraud to be calculated for confiscation purposes? (ii) Is the confiscation scheme under Part 2 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in England and Wales compliant with Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights (referred to as ‘A1P1’)?

 

Mortgage fraud

The Supreme Court’s answer to the mortgage fraud question is rather different from that previously adopted in the Crown Court and Court of Appeal.

It boils down to this.  No benefit arises from the actual obtaining of the mortgage itself, but a benefit can arise when the property purchased with that mortgage increases in value.

An example illustrates how this is to be worked out.  Suppose a defendant, call him Mark, buys a property for £775,000.  He puts up a 40% deposit from his own (legitimate) money, that’s £310,000.  The remaining 60%, or £465,000, he obtains fraudulently by giving false details of his income to the lender.  Mark is convicted of mortgage fraud and is then subject to confiscation proceedings.  At the time of the confiscation hearing the property has increased in value to £1,200,000 and there is still the original £465,000 outstanding on the mortgage.

The increase in the value of the property has been £425,000 (the difference between £775,000 and £1,200,000) and the fraudulently obtained mortgage was 60% of the purchase price.  So the benefit is 60% of the increase in value – which works out to be £255,000.

That is not the way that benefit in mortgage fraud cases was calculated before this judgment was published on 14 November 2012, but from now on this is the way that the calculation should be done.

But note that Waya was a case in which the defendant’s own money was legitimate and only the mortgage money was derived from crime.  A different approach is needed in cases where the defendant’s own money is derived from (other) crime and the mortgage advance is legitimately obtained.  A different approach would also have been needed if the property being purchased had been fraudulently over-valued in connection with the obtaining of the mortgage resulting in the mortgage advance being greater than the true market value of the property being purchased.

The calculations get more complicated where some of the original mortgage advance has been repaid before the date of the confiscation, or where the property has been subject to a re-mortgage and further borrowing.  It is not possible to deal with those complexities in a short article such as this.

 

Human Rights

The Supreme Court also addressed the issue of compliance with A1P1, Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Essentially the Supreme Court recognised that there are cases in which simply calculating the ‘recoverable amount’ (the amount that the defendant is ordered to pay by the confiscation order) by strictly following the wording of Part 2 PoCA 2002 produces a result which is disproportionate and would therefore infringe the defendant’s human rights.  That cannot be permitted.

The judgment makes it clear that in order to prevent that happening Crown Court judges must reduce the amount of a disproportionate confiscation order below the figure calculated in accordance with PoCA 2002.

However the Supreme Court said that a confiscation order should not be regarded as disproportionate simply because it would “involve the possibility of removing from the defendant by way of confiscation order a sum larger than may in fact represent his net proceeds of crime”.

In particular the Supreme Court said that it would not be disproportionate to:

  1. require the defendant to pay the whole of a sum which he has obtained jointly with others;
  2. require several defendants each to pay a sum which has been obtained, successively, by each of them; or
  3. require a defendant to pay the whole of a sum which he has obtained by crime without enabling him to set off expenses of the crime.

In relation to ‘criminal lifestyle’ cases the Supreme Court drew particular attention to s10(6)(b) PoCA 2002 which requires that “the court must not make a required assumption in relation to particular property or expenditure if . . . there would be a serious risk of injustice if the assumption were made”.  As a result of applying s10(6)(b) the Supreme Court suggested that the courts ought not normally to be at risk of making disproportionate confiscation orders in ‘criminal lifestyle’ cases.  I have previously considered the operation of s10(6)(b) in ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation cases in my blog article Confiscation: a serious risk of injustice.

The new approach does not amount to the re-creation of a general discretion for judges in confiscation cases, nor does it introduce a new regime in which the confiscation order must be governed by the “real benefit” obtained by the defendant.

By way of example, the Supreme Court indicated that in, say, a theft case in which goods had been stolen but recovered intact and returned to their owners it might be disproportionate for a confiscation order to be made based on the value of those stolen goods, although a strict reading of PoCA 2002 would require that.

 

The practical effects

There is, in my view at least, a very real danger that this judgment will create more complexities and difficulties for the Crown Courts and Court of Appeal whilst doing very little to introduce more justice and common sense into the confiscation regime.

The judgment may breathe new life into s10(6)(b) in ‘criminal lifestyle’ cases and we may see judges adopting more frequently a broad brush reduction in the defendant’s benefit figure as exemplified by the case of R v Deprince [2004] EWCA Crim 524 (a case not referred to in the Supreme Court judgment).

I would suggest that if the confiscation case of Del Basso & Goodwin v R [2010] EWCA Crim 1119 were to be heard today the confiscation order against Mr Del Basso might be scaled back to a level related to the profit of the business (which was essentially legitimate) rather than its turnover, in the light of the comments at paragraph [34] of the judgment in Waya.

Of course the Court of Appeal now has power to send a confiscation case back to the Crown Court for rehearing under s140 Coroners and Justice Act 2009, particularly where it is appropriate to make further findings of fact.

In new cases the judgment may provide encouragement for defendants, and their legal representatives, to routinely argue in the Crown Court that a proposed confiscation order would be disproportionate and infringe the defendant’s A1P1 rights.  There would appear to be nothing to be lost by making that submission even where it may have little prospect of success.

On the other hand the judgment seems to offer nothing to encourage prosecutors – their lives are undoubtedly going to be made harder by it.

David

(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.)

Confiscation: a serious risk of injustice

In confiscation proceedings the court must not make a criminal lifestyle assumption in relation to particular property or expenditure if that creates a serious risk of injustice, see s10(6)(b) PoCA 2002.  Similar provisions apply to earlier confiscation legislation in England and Wales employing statutory assumptions for the purpose of determining a defendant’s benefit.  But what does this mean in practice?

 

A serious risk of injustice

The legislation expressly refers to a “serious risk of injustice”.  Does that mean the risk of a serious injustice?

The court, at the end of the confiscation process, has therefore a responsibility not to make a confiscation which could create injustice

In the Court of Appeal judgment in the case of R v Benjafield [2000] EWCA Crim 86 it was held, at paragraph [41.4]: “In particular, while a defendant is required to show that an assumption in his case in incorrect, if he fails to do this, the court must still not apply an assumption where there would be a “serious risk of injustice in the defendant’s case if the assumption were to be made”.  As to the weight that has to be given to the word “serious”, any real as opposed to a fanciful risk of injustice can be appropriately described as serious.  The court, at the end of the confiscation process, has therefore a responsibility not to make a confiscation which could create injustice”.

So it appears almost as if the word “serious” could be omitted.

But in my experience convicted defendants who have been made subject to confiscation orders under the ‘criminal lifestyle’ provisions often leave court feeling that they have suffered a serious injustice.

it may well be perfectly proper for a confiscation order to be massively greater than the gain from the offences

Indeed more recently the Court of Appeal in the case of Shabir v R [2008] EWCA Crim 1809 said at paragraph [27]: “If it is a case in which the criminal lifestyle provisions of the Act can legitimately be applied, and with them the several section 10 assumptions as to the source of assets, it may well be perfectly proper for a confiscation order to be massively greater than the gain from the offences of which the defendant has been convicted”.

Many defendants might regard that as a description of precisely the serious injustice which they have suffered.

 

A general discretion to avoid unfairness?

One might think that s10(6)(b) Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 offers Crown Court judges a general discretion to avoid excessive harshness or unfairness towards defendants in confiscation proceedings, but courts have held that it does not operate in that way.

a judge is permitted to stand back and determine whether there is or might be a risk of serious or real injustice

It appears that a judge is permitted to ‘stand back and determine whether there is or might be a risk of serious or real injustice’ (as it was put in Lunnon v R [2004] EWCA Crim 1125 at paragraph [11]) but in this context the courts have had in mind possibilities such as “a defendant suffering from some mental infirmity” (alluded to in R v Briggs-Price [2009] UKHL 19 at paragraph [104]) or the position of an unrepresented defendant putting his case in person (see WB v R [2006] EWCA Crim 3062 at paragraph [135]).  The position in relation to that rather restricted application of s10(6)(b) may have been changed somewhat by the Supreme Court decision in R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51, which is discussed below.

But the courts have expressly said that the fact that a confiscation order will cause hardship to the defendant is not to be regarded as a factor giving rise to a serious risk of injustice.  Consideration of a possible serious risk of injustice is not a discretionary exercise by the judge to determine whether or not it is fair to make an order against a particular defendant, see R v Jones [2006] EWCA Crim 2061 at paragraph [14].

The courts have considered the serious risk of injustice in the context, as the statute suggests, of whether or not the assumption should be made in relation to particular items of property or expenditure.

 

Rebutting the criminal lifestyle assumptions

But, once the courts have concluded there would be no serious risk of injustice in making the assumption, the courts have not considered that the placing of the burden of rebutting the assumption (on the balance of probabilities) on the defendant – rather than placing the burden on the prosecution to provide evidence of further criminal conduct – gives rise to a serious risk of injustice.  In effect the Crown Courts are not permitted to consider whether that may, of itself, give rise to a serious risk of injustice because the placing of that burden on the defendant is an integral feature of the legislation and because courts (both at national and European level) have consistently held that placing that burden on the defendant is proper and does not breach the defendant’s human rights.

a defendant who has not kept records of his financial affairs will not be saved from a substantial confiscation order

So, for example, a defendant who has not kept records of his financial affairs, and in consequence cannot produce the clear and cogent evidence which the court requires in order to rebut the statutory assumptions, will not be saved from a substantial confiscation order on the basis that there would be a serious risk of injustice if the assumptions were applied in his case, see R v Jones [2006] EWCA Crim 933 at paragraph [20].

However where there is sufficient evidence to rebut the statutory assumption in relation to property or expenditure, but the extent to which the assumption is rebutted by that evidence is uncertain, the court may make a broad brush reduction in the amount of the assumed benefit to eliminate any perceived risk of injustice – as was done in the case of R v Deprince [2004] EWCA Crim 524 at paragraph [21].

 

Double counting of benefit

an item of property should not be counted twice

More straightforwardly, the provision also allows the court to avoid the injustice which could otherwise occur where the same property falls to be considered as assumed benefit more than once as a consequence of the operation of the statutory assumptions.  So, for example, where an item of property is both transferred to the defendant after the relevant day and held by him after the date of his conviction that property should not be counted twice for benefit purposes.

But even in relation to alleged double counting, sometimes called double accounting, it is necessary for there to be adequate evidence before the court to rebut the statutory assumptions or show that there is a serious risk of injustice.  In the case of Priestley v R [2004] EWCA Crim 2237 the defendant had been convicted of offences concerning the sale of counterfeit perfume, champagne and clothing.  In the confiscation hearing Mr Priestley had not given any evidence himself nor called any witnesses.  The judge found his benefit by calculating the estimated proceeds from the sale of the perfume (based on the number of perfume bottles that had apparently been used and an estimated average sale price per bottle), and adding to that figure the amount of monies deposited in the defendant’s bank account and the estimated expenditure on production of the perfume since the relevant day, together with the amount of cash in the defendant’s possession on the day of his arrest.  On appeal it was submitted that this involved double accounting since the bank deposits, the expenditure and the cash in hand would all have represented monies generated from the sale proceeds of the perfume (which had already been taken into account).  The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal holding that the judge had “no secure evidential basis” to conclude that there was a serious risk of injustice in applying the statutory assumptions in full.

 

The decision in R v Waya

courts should not make confiscation orders which are disproportionate to the objective of the confiscation legislation

The Supreme Court in the case of R v Waya [2012] UKSC 51 has made it clear that the courts should not make confiscation orders which are disproportionate to the objective of the confiscation legislation.  Where an order calculated in accordance with the provisions of PoCA 2002 would be disproportionate the judge should reduce the amount of the order so that it will not infringe the defendant’s human rights, in particular with respect to Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights (A1P1).

But the Supreme Court indicated that ordinarily the operation of s10(6)(b) should avoid the making of an order in a ‘criminal lifestyle’ case which would infringe the defendant’s A1P1 rights.  It remains to be seen whether these comments in Waya will breathe new life into the s10(6)(b) provision, although clearly the Supreme Court did not intend by its judgment in Waya to create a wide-ranging general discretion for Crown Court judges in ‘criminal lifestyle’ confiscation cases.

At the end of the day criminal lifestyle confiscation remains a potentially Draconian deterrent penalty employed by the courts as a part of the sentencing process.

David

Note: This article has been updated to reflect the decision of the Supreme Court in R v Waya.

Confiscation – counts left to lie on the file

In confiscation proceedings counts left to lie on the file may have unwelcome implications which had not been foreseen by the defendant and his legal team at an earlier stage.  What are these implications?

 

Counts left to lie on the file

in any subsequent confiscation proceedings there is, I venture to suggest, a very important difference between these two methods of disposal

When a defendant has been charged with more than one offence he may wish to offer a guilty plea to some of the counts he faces if the remaining counts against him will not be pursued.  Those counts which are not pursued might be dealt with in one of two ways.  The prosecution could state in court that they propose to offer no evidence on those counts.  The judge will then formally record ‘not guilty’ verdicts in relation to them.

Alternatively the prosecution could invite the judge to agree that the counts are to be ‘left to lie on the file’ without any verdict being entered.  That means that the prosecution may only revive and proceed on those counts in wholly exceptional circumstances.

So it would appear that, in practical terms, the outcome is the same – those allegations have been disposed of and the defendant will no longer face prosecution for them.  But in any subsequent confiscation proceedings there is, I venture to suggest, a very important difference between these two methods of disposal.

Case law

Case law indicates that where a defendant has been formally acquitted of a count it is not open to the prosecution to suggest, in confiscation proceedings based on his conviction on one or more other counts on the same indictment, that the defendant was in fact guilty of that offence.  To do so would imply that the court has ‘got it wrong’ so far as the acquittal is concerned.

it is not open to the state to undermine the effect of the acquittal

In R (on the application of Adams) v Secretary of State for Justice [2011] UKSC 18 the Supreme Court held at paragraph [111] “the principle that is applied is that it is not open to the state to undermine the effect of the acquittal”.  Similarly the Supreme Court held in Gale v Serious Organised Crime Agency [2011] UKSC 49 at paragraph [115] “in all proceedings following an acquittal the court should be astute to ensure that nothing that it says or decides is calculated to cast the least doubt upon the correctness of the acquittal”.

In this respect the UK Supreme Court judgments are consistent with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Geerings v The Netherlands [2007] ECHR 191.  In the Geerings case a confiscation order made against Mr Geerings following his conviction of certain offences was assessed, in part, on the basis that he was in fact also guilty of other offences of which he had been acquitted in the same proceedings.  The European Court held that this had violated his Article 6(2) right to the presumption of innocence.

in contrast . . . the defendant may find that the burden will rest upon him

In contrast where counts have been left to ‘lie on the file’ I suggest that it is open to the prosecutor, in confiscation proceedings, to suggest that the defendant is in fact guilty of those offences.  Indeed in a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ confiscation the defendant may find that the burden will rest upon him to satisfy the court, on the balance of probabilities, that he is not guilty of those offences.

Simon’s case

An example from a recent case in which I was involved may underline the point.  The defendant, let’s call him Simon, ran a plant hire business.  His premises were raided by the police who examined 91 items of plant which he hired out.  They found 39 of these items to have been stolen property.  Simon was charged with 39 counts of ‘handling’ under s22 Theft Act 1968 on the basis that he knew or believed these items to be stolen.  Simon denied that he knew or believed the items to be stolen but, shortly before the matter came for trial, he pleaded guilty to 9 of the 39 counts and all parties agreed to the remaining 30 counts being left to ‘lie on the file’.

Simon was subsequently subject to confiscation on the basis that he had a ‘criminal lifestyle‘ having been convicted of more than 3 offences and having obtained from them a benefit of at least £5,000 (which was not disputed).  In the confiscation proceedings the prosecution asserted that the income generated from the hiring out of all 39 items was benefit of Simon’s criminal conduct.  The defence contended that the benefit should be assessed only by reference to the income from the hire of the 9 items in relation to which Simon had been convicted.

The judge entirely disbelieved and rejected Simon’s evidence

The judge heard oral evidence from Simon regarding his state of knowledge concerning the 30 items and also heard oral evidence from other witnesses.  The judge entirely disbelieved and rejected Simon’s evidence and based the confiscation order on the income generated from the hire of all 39 stolen items.

In approaching the matter in the way he did, the judge acted consistently with the recent Court of Appeal judgment in Bagnall v R [2012] EWCA Crim 677.  It was open to the judge to apply the statutory assumptions which, in his judgment, Simon had failed to rebut in relation to income generated from the hire of all 39 stolen items.  This did not, in law, amount to a finding that Simon was guilty of offences of which he had not been convicted (although it had the same effect in terms of the confiscation order).

In a jury trial the burden would have been upon the prosecution to prove, to the criminal standard, that Simon knew or believed that each of the items of plant was stolen

No doubt the outcome of the confiscation would have been significantly different if Simon had been formally acquitted of the 30 counts to which he did not plead guilty.  Alternatively, had Simon insisted, insofar as he was able, that he face trial before a jury on the 30 counts (and, in my view at least, a defendant has a right to a fair trial on all the counts with which he has been charged) it is possible that he would have been acquitted on some or all of those counts.  In a jury trial the burden would have been upon the prosecution to prove, to the criminal standard, that Simon knew or believed that each of the items of plant was stolen.  As things turned out, acquittals on any of the counts would have led to a better outcome for Simon in the confiscation proceedings.

So, for a defendant and his legal team, agreeing to counts being left to ‘lie on the file’ may be a less attractive option than it appears.

David