Interim freezing orders

Criminal Finances Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 17th November 2016.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Minister of State (Home Office) (Security)

Clause 2 acts in tandem with clause 1 in appropriate cases. It provides that the court can also issue an interim freezing order in relation to property that is subject to an unexplained wealth order. The interim freezing order provides that the property cannot be dealt with in any way while subject to that order. There is no point in putting an unexplained wealth order on something if it can immediately be sold, as we might lose the asset. The freezing order can be used to keep it in place.

It is important to split the obtaining of an unexplained wealth order and the freezing of property into two different matters. Although they will be done at the same hearing, they are different decisions with separate considerations. Some colleagues have asked why we are not providing that property must be frozen in every case. Freezing someone’s property is a very invasive measure and may not be necessary in every case. For example, there may be no suspicion that the property will be dissipated—perhaps it is a house that has been owned and occupied by the same person for many years—or that a civil recovery order will be frustrated in some other way.

We would not want unexplained wealth order applications to be rejected solely on the grounds of a technicality related to the freezing decision. It is also important to note that if property is frozen, the court may quite reasonably expect the case to progress at a far quicker pace than if no freezing order was in place. On that last point, I should flag up the fact that, under clause 1, if property is subject to an interim freezing order, the enforcement authority is given a deadline of 60 days to decide the next steps. The freezing order would then be discharged after a further 48 hours.

The expectation is that if an enforcement authority is to go forward with civil recovery action, it will obtain a property freezing order, with many of same provisions and safeguards, to apply immediately to the same property once the interim freezing order is lifted. The property would remain frozen.

An application can be made for the variation or discharge of the freezing order. The court can also provide that property can be released to meet affected persons’ reasonable living expenses, their need to carry on their business and their legal expenses. I hope that what I have said reassures hon. Members that the freezing order provisions are properly circumscribed.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

The Minister has given a full and cogent account of why interim freezing orders are being introduced. As a London MP, I know how dirty money in the property market has skewed the entire London property market, meaning that genuine people cannot get a foot on the ladder. It sounds as if sufficient safeguards are being put in place, so we will not stand in the way of the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3