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New Clause 10

Part of Serious Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 10th July 2007.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction) 12:15 pm, 10th July 2007

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his further helpful clarification of his point.

Secondly, at least one of the offences would have to have been committed in the period between 24 March 2003 and the date on which the offence giving rise to the confiscation order was committed. There is also an existing safeguard in that the criminal lifestyle test is met only if, in addition to meeting the tests that I have set out, the defendant has benefited to a certain monetary value. The new clause seeks to raise the threshold from £5,000 to £20,000.

Experience of the operation of the 2002 Act is that although the criminal lifestyle provisions have been in force for four years, there has been no opposition to their operation. Similar provisions operated in previous confiscation legislation. The operation of the provisions has not, to our knowledge, been challenged in the courts.

I am convinced that the tests set out are already high enough, and that only a career criminal could qualify as having a criminal lifestyle. It is also significant that even if a defendant was deemed to have such a lifestyle, he would have the opportunity to show the court evidence that his assets and property were not the  proceeds of crime. They would then not be subject to confiscation. Furthermore, the courts have discretion on whether to include the value of assets if there is a serious risk of injustice.

I draw the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Committee to section 10(6) of the 2002 Act, which specifically states that the court can ignore the value of assets if it believes that not doing so could result in a serious injustice. It is also significant that the courts are bound by the Human Rights Act to dispose of their duties in a way that complies with the defendant’s rights under the European convention of human rights. Again, I am unaware of any human rights challenges having been brought under that provision.

The benefit figure of £5,000 is significant enough to catch career criminals. I am confident that the concept of the criminal lifestyle and the operation of those provisions in court are not draconian. However, I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the new clause, as it causes us to think again and to justify the legislation continually. He said that he would not press the new clause, but I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to reply to the debate.