Proceeds of Crime Bill
Lord Goodhart (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 20, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 53 and 78. This is another short point. English law and, as far as I know, Scots law have never accepted the principle of trial in absentia. Therefore, a defendant cannot be convicted unless he or she has been present at least at the start of the trial. Unless they have been convicted, they cannot, of course, be punished. But the clauses which we seek to leave out override that principle by allowing a confiscation order to be made where the defendant has absconded.
A confiscation order is a punishment. Under this clause it would be punishment where there has been no conviction. In effect, we would see a sentence where there had been no trial. That, I believe, is wrong; it is also unnecessary. The enforcement agency is likely to have obtained a restraint order. Indeed, if it has not obtained a restraint order, it has nothing left to confiscate. If the defendant absconds, the restraint order will, of course, stay in place. The agency can leave it until the defendant is apprehended and tried, or it can apply instead for a confiscation order or a civil recovery order. We believe that the clauses we seek to delete override a longstanding and entirely proper principle of the criminal law and do so without any pragmatic justification. I beg to move.