Proceeds of Crime Bill

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Mr. Foulkes: I am afraid that I have fallen into the same trap as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, by being too generous to Conservative Members.

Courts throughout the United Kingdom are used to operating under the circumstances that have been described, and the courts in Northern Ireland are used to operating in Northern Ireland—they understand the pressures that are brought to bear there. However, that matter is not particularly relevant to the purpose of the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 171 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 172 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 173

No order made: reconsideration of benefit

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

Mr. Wilshire: I wish to refer to a general issue. I suspect that it relates to many clauses—although I have not tried to identify all of them. I will focus on subsection (7), but I wish the Minister to respond to the general issue.

Subsection (7) applies if the court has already sentenced the defendant for the offence, and it explains what the court can do in those circumstances. However, on this occasion, I am not worried about what the court can do. My concern is that someone who has been involved in a serious crime might be caught. Their offence might be money laundering, which would not be relevant to what I have to say, but in Northern Ireland the offence might be extortion, and offences such as GBH could be involved. A range of violent activities are conducted for terrorist purposes. As I and other Committee members have explained, extortion is used by paramilitary organisations to maintain control of their territories. Large sums can be involved, and people can be heavily involved in intimidation and violence.

In an earlier debate, an answer was not given to the question about what would happen if a pardon were involved. If we had had a stand part debate, I would have had the opportunity to refer to the case that was used as a debating point. Ministers have not answered the question. Perhaps they will answer it now.

My concern is that, if someone who has been sentenced for an offence and has entered a prison in Northern Ireland is subsequently pardoned and released, that offence and that conviction no longer stand, as they have been given an amnesty. What will happen if the court is invited to do various things after conviction, when the conviction has been quashed, or it has been set aside for political reasons? Some nasty problems might be lurking in that regard in a range of clauses. Have the Government thought about that, and if they have not, should they do so? If they do, will they respond—either now or later—to the question about people who are granted amnesties and pardons? That is highly likely to happen in Northern Ireland; indeed, it has happened—several hundred people who had been convicted of horrendous crimes have been released from prison, and they would no longer be covered by the provisions.

Mr. Foulkes: The Government have considered that point, but I do not understand how it relates to clause 173 and reconsideration of benefit. As I understand it, there is no system of wide-scale pardons in Northern Ireland—

Mr. Wilshire: Hundreds of them.

Mr. Foulkes: The convictions with which the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 deals still stand as convictions.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 173 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 174 to 184 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 185

Court's powers on appeal

Mr. Foulkes: I beg to move amendment No. 121, in page 112, line 22, leave out subsection (11).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 128.

Mr. Foulkes: I need not delay the Committee long on amendment No. 121. It replicates amendment No. 38, which has already been made to clause 33. When we reconsidered the clause following the Bill's introduction, it occurred to us that clause 185(11) is unnecessary, because its effect is already included in clause 203. If the director is responsible for enforcing the confiscation order, the Crown court must make an order permitting the director to appoint a receiver, regardless of whether the Court of Appeal originally made the confiscation order.

Amendment No. 128 is a technical amendment that makes the same change as amendment No. 45 did to clause 52. As the Court of Appeal does not need to direct the Crown court to proceed under clause 203, subsection (2) is not appropriate. In short, amendment No. 128 removes the reference to the Court of Appeal directing the Crown court. However, the effect of proposed new subsection (2) will continue to be that, if the confiscation order has already been satisfied, the Crown court is not obliged to make an order for the appointment of a director's receiver.

Mr. Hawkins: I need not detain the Committee for any length of time on the matter. As the Minister explained, the amendments replicate amendments that the Government have already introduced in respect of the equivalent clauses in the provisions for England and Wales—clauses 33 and 52—so we have already made similar amendments.

My only question concerns whether there are different, additional provisions that relate specifically to cases that go to the Court of Appeal from the Crown court in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Minister will say that he and his officials have considered the matter and that there are absolutely no changes. However, I am aware that sometimes, perhaps partly because Crown courts in Northern Ireland usually sit without juries, there are some different provisions relating to how the Court of Appeal considers appeals from Northern Ireland courts. Will he confirm whether there is a difference?

Mr. Foulkes: I can confirm that the answer is no.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 185, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 186 and 187 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 188

Enforcement as fines etc

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

Mr. Hawkins: I want to explore the clause in a brief stand part debate. When reading the Bill, and continually referring backwards and forwards between the England and Wales provisions and the Northern Ireland provisions, I noticed some major differences in relation to the clause. Unlike most other clauses in this part of the Bill, there is a difference between clause 188 and clauses 36 and 37. I assume that that is because of some different arrangements under the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 and the functions of the court as to fines and subsection (3), which refers to article 35 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 under which parents and guardians pay the fines instead of children. It struck me as odd, in relation to money laundering, drug trafficking and criminal racketeering, to see references under subsection (3) to situations when a parent or guardian pays a fine instead of a child. That provision is incongruous, given the offences that it covers. Surely, situations will not arise when parents or guardians pay fines instead of children in respect of money laundering and criminal racketeering.

I will be grateful if the Under-Secretary will explain to the Committee why the clause is so different from clauses 36 and 37. It would be helpful for the Committee to know the ways in which the fines regime differs and why parents and guardians should fall into such a category.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: I sincerely hope that I shall be able to do as the hon. Gentleman asks.

The clause provides that confiscation orders, as at present, will continue to be enforced as Crown court fines. Subsection (2) requires the Crown court, as in England and Wales, to set a term of imprisonment in default of payment when it makes a confiscation order. The maximum default term that may be imposed is determined by the size of the confiscation order. Such matters are prescribed in statute. There is no difference in the maximum default term applicable between the various United Kingdom jurisdictions. Accordingly, in each of the various United Kingdom jurisdictions, a confiscation order will be treated in the same way as a fine in the relevant jurisdiction.

One of the main differences between England and Wales and Northern Ireland is that Crown court fines in Northern Ireland are not enforced through the magistrates court. That results in some differences between the two jurisdictions in the powers of enforcement available. The main difference is that, when default occurs, no further assessment of the defendant's means to pay is held by the Northern Ireland court, as the means assessment will have to be made when the sentence is first imposed.

The main burden of enforcing such orders will continue to fall on the main prosecuting authority in Northern Ireland, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. However, when the director is appointed as the enforcement authority, the responsibility will fall on the Assets Recovery Agency. The Crown court will continue to have the power to allow payment by instalments, but when the defendant defaults on one instalment, he will be treated as having defaulted on all outstanding instalments. As in England and Wales, subsection (3) ensures that parents and guardians cannot be required to pay an amount due under a confiscation order made against a young person. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that the problem to which he referred will not apply to confiscation orders.

Mr. Hawkins: I am still slightly puzzled. Under what circumstances does the Under-Secretary anticipate that, under the Bill, the order would apply to a child or young person? That does not seem to be the target of the Bill in any way, shape or form. I am still puzzled why the Government need, whether in Northern Ireland or England and Wales, the provisions in subsection (3).

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