Proceeds of Crime Bill
Lord Goodhart (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 and 6. The amendments raise a short issue that should have been raised at an earlier stage. I regret that the question did not occur to me until Report stage, when I realised that there was a problem with the definition of what constitutes a criminal lifestyle.
The question is: can a company have a criminal lifestyle? I raised this matter briefly in debate, but the Attorney-General gave an off-the-cuff response and did not have time to give a considered response. I have therefore tabled the amendments to ensure we receive a proper expression of the Government's views.
The idea of a corporation having a lifestyle is odd. "Lifestyle" is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as,
"a way or style of living".
A corporation is a person in law, but it cannot be said in any real sense to live. Only a living person can have a lifestyle. In deciding for the purposes of Clause 76 whether a defendant has a criminal lifestyle, "defendant" must mean a living defendant. A company cannot have a lifestyle. If that is so, there is a big hole in the Bill.
Many offences under Schedule 2—quite apart from many that are not included but could be made the basis of a criminal lifestyle—can be committed by a body corporate. In such cases, the body corporate is usually the person who makes a profit and against whom a confiscation order needs to be made if it is to be effective.
It is clear that the Government intend the Bill to cover corporations that commit crimes and not just individuals. But it is far from clear that the Bill has that effect. On Report, the Attorney-General relied on the principle that the word "person" in a statute includes a body corporate under the Interpretation Act 1978. But that is subject to a context showing a contrary intention. The reference to "lifestyle" could be read by a court as showing such a contrary intention, particularly in view of the principle that a statute that imposes penalties must be read strictly in favour of the person against whom the penalties are claimed.
The definition of criminal lifestyle does not use the word "person". It refers to the defendant who has a criminal lifestyle, not the person who has a criminal lifestyle. Therefore, in interpreting Clause 76 a court would have to proceed without relying on the definition of "person" in the Interpretation Act.
I am aware that this is a technical and legalistic argument. But unless the Government accept the amendments, a prosecution will face this argument sooner or later and could lose it. We have always made it clear that we wish to strengthen the Bill where it needs strengthening. We believe that in this case it needs clarification to strengthen it. I beg to move.