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The point about trying to stimulate debate on some of the issues is important. From what I have seen, both in power and in opposition in various guises on councils, one might stimulate debate and a year or two or three later, lo and behold, somebody somewhere takes notice. Victory is not immediate, but it does sometimes arrive.
In its four years of operation, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 has resulted in the recovery of a considerable amount of criminal wealth. A record £125 million was recovered in the past financial year. That represents a substantial year-on-year increase and a fivefold increase over the previous five years. That is a significant success, but we do not want to rest on our laurels. We want to double the annual recovery to £250 million by 2010. Confiscation following criminal conviction is a core part of our efforts to deprive criminals of their ill-gotten gains. The new clause, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman points out, seeks to dilute the provisions that provide important tools to ensure that that occurs.
Under the 2002 Act, a court assumes that a defendant who has a criminal lifestyle funds his entire wealth by crime. Consequently, the value of the defendant’s assets is available to be reckoned into a confiscation order. The alternative is for only the direct gain from the offence of which the defendant was convicted to be available for confiscation. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, criminal lifestyle is defined in several different ways. Some defendants are found guilty of specific offences, such as people trafficking and money laundering. Other criteria, based on the number and pattern of prosecutions, tend to show that a defendant is a career criminal.
The new clause would amend the qualifying criteria. It provides that an offence needs to have occurred over three years rather than six months. It would also alter the test for deciding whether a person has engaged in conduct that forms part of a course of criminal activity defined in section 75(3)(a) of the 2002 Act. First, the conviction of three or more other offences would have to have occurred prior to the proceedings on which a confiscation order was considered.