Good morning, Mrs Main. I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship. This group deals with the provisions in the Bill that allow for the seizure and forfeiture of terrorist property. I suggest that we covered some of this ground in our debates last week on clauses 12 and 13, which will do likewise for proceeds of crime, and I will seek to avoid repeating all the same points.
Clause 32 and schedule 3 cover the seizure and forfeiture of moveable personal items such as precious metals and gemstones where they are earmarked for terrorism, are the resources of a proscribed organisation or are intended for use in terrorism. Clause 33 and schedule 4 give law enforcement agencies new powers to freeze funds held in bank or building society accounts that are suspected to be terrorist money, and provide for such funds to be forfeited if law enforcement agencies or the courts are satisfied that that is the case. Hon. Members will know that the threat from terrorism is constantly evolving. In the same way that we should have a mechanism to deal with criminals who launder money to evade disruption, we should have the ability to seize items that represent terrorist property.
Although this is a powerful new measure, several safeguards are built into the Bill to ensure that the interference with individuals’ rights to enjoy private property is managed in a way that is proportionate and guards against innocent parties being disadvantaged. Seized property may initially be detained for only 48 hours before an application must be made to a magistrates court in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or to the sheriff in Scotland, for further detention for up to two years. There is therefore judicial oversight of this provision. Individuals who are joint owners of property will be able to claim back the value of their share.
Denying access to funding is already a key part of our counter-terrorism strategy, but the current powers in the Terrorist Asset-Freezing etc. Act 2010 may not always be the most appropriate operational route for combating the financing of terrorism, as they are designed to freeze the entirety of someone’s economic assets, carry a relatively high threshold for use and do not include forfeiture powers. That is why we have tabled several amendments to this part of the Bill.
New clause 18 will ensure that UK law enforcement agencies have the ability to seek forfeiture of terrorist cash without requiring a court order. An administrative forfeiture power is already provided for in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, as amended by the Policing and Crime Act 2009. However, the terrorist cash provisions in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 were not amended at that time, and we seek to address that anomaly. The new clause will ensure that the best use is made of both the courts’ and the police’s time and resources by providing that there is no need for law enforcement bodies to involve the courts where forfeiture is uncontested.
However, these provisions are not without oversight. Where terrorist cash is seized, extended detention beyond an initial 48-hour period is already subject to oversight by a magistrates court, or the sheriff in Scotland. There is therefore early judicial involvement in the detention and forfeiture process. In addition, the administrative forfeiture of cash will be exercisable only by a senior officer who is a police officer of at least the rank of superintendent.
The other amendments in this group make several technical and consequential changes to complement those provisions. In particular, they address inconsistencies in the definition of “senior officer” in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 and the Terrorism Act 2000 to ensure that such a person is at least the rank of superintendent. The amendments will also ensure that a court can order that property be detained under the powers in ACSA for up to six months per application, with an overall cap of two years, which is consistent with the Proceeds of Crime Act, and that these administrative forfeiture powers can be applied for and implemented in Scotland. Taken together, these measures will strengthen law enforcement agencies’ ability to disrupt terrorist financing in a proportionate and effective way.