|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
(3B) Relevant benefit for the purposes of subsection (2)(d) is
(a) benefit from conduct which constitutes the offence;
(b) benefit from any other conduct which forms part of the course of criminal activity and which constitutes an offence of which the defendant has been convicted;
(c) benefit from conduct which constitutes an offence which has been or will be taken into consideration by the court in sentencing the defendant for an offence mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b).
(3C) Relevant benefit for the purposes of subsection (2)(e) is
(a) benefit from conduct which constitutes the offence;
(b) benefit from conduct which constitutes an offence which has been or will be taken into consideration by the court in sentencing the defendant for the offence mentioned in paragraph (a).
(3D) The Secretary of State may by order vary the amount for the time being specified in subsection (3A)."
Mr. Ainsworth: I think that we are all agreed that one of the requirements for the granting of the investigatory powers and warrants in part 8 should be that it is in the public interest for the court to grant the order or warrant.
We recognise, however, that there have been continuing concerns, and we therefore decided to introduce an amendment in the other place to make it explicit in the Bill that the public interest test must be an integral part of the court's consideration. Lords amendments Nos. 4C to 4H and 43C to 43H do precisely that.
On Lords amendments in lieu Nos. 4B to 4K, 43B to 43K and 73B to 73D, last Thursday we discussed mandatory as opposed to discretionary confiscation. We cannot agree with the Opposition on that matter. We are determined that the confiscation system remain mandatory, and that we do not go backwards in that regard. The criminal lifestyle tests set out in parts 2 to 4 in theory expose a defendant to the criminal lifestyle regime where that defendant is convicted only of a trivial offence or offences that are not inherently indicative of a criminal lifestyle.
It would be possible for the court to apply assumptions where an offender is convicted of one acquisitive summary offence of any description that lasts for more than six months, or four summary offences of any description, from which only a very small amount of benefit had been derived. The same would be true where an offender was convicted of one offence of any description, from which he had benefited, and had two past convictions of any acquisitive offence. The benefit might be trivial, but a criminal lifestyle confiscation order could still be made.
In practice, the director or the prosecutor would never mount a confiscation proceeding in such an inappropriate case. There is a presentational issue here, however. We have reached the conclusion that it would be better for the Bill to impose a formal threshold before the criminal lifestyle tests can be applied. That will make it clear in the Bill that the authorities will not be able to apply for confiscation orders in trivial cases against offenders who are not convicted of offences specified in the criminal lifestyle schedules.
That is why we tabled these further amendments in lieu in the Lords. They aim to address concerns about the breadth of some of the criminal lifestyle tests, yet they preserve the integrity of confiscation as a mandatory procedure. We are making absolutely no change to the criminal lifestyle regime as it will apply to anybody convicted of one of the scheduled offences. There will be no financial threshold in such cases. But in relation to the other criminal lifestyle definitions, we are content to see a financial threshold imposed.
What we are saying is that for the criminal lifestyle tests to be satisfied, the total benefit from the triggering offences and any other offences taken into account for sentencing purposes will have to be £5,000 or more. The amendments introduce a power for the Secretary of State to change the £5,000 threshold by order. This power will be used, both to take account of inflation, and to respond to different patterns and trends of offending. It will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): It is with some pleasure that I welcome the amendments that were tabled in the Lords in lieu of their previous amendments, and which the Government are willing to accept as Government amendments.
There is a long history to the matter. On a number of occasions in Committee we expressed concern about the threshold by which people went into the confiscatory regime and were deemed to have a criminal lifestyle. I must say to the Minister, and it would be wise for me to put it on the record, that there is a certain irony in the way in which the Government have finally seen fit to approach the matter. It lacks the flexibility of the judicial discretion route which, as the Minister knows, we preferred.
For instance, if the prosecutor and the Assets Recovery Agency took the view that an individual had committed a number of very minor offences but was nevertheless known to be a serious criminal, under the earlier amendments they might still have been able to initiate the confiscation regimethe Al Capone clause, as it has sometimes been called.
In this case, the Government have refused to go down that road, because they did not want judicial discretion. They have fettered the mandatory provisions in a minor way. In the circumstances that I have just described, the person would be able to escape the confiscatory regime. I accept that, as a matter of principle, it could be argued that that is the appropriate way to proceed, as in those circumstances he would not be deemed to have a criminal lifestyle.
Nevertheless, I entirely welcome what the Government have done in respect of the £5,000 threshold. They are absolutely right that that should not cover the schedule offencesthat would go a long way to defeating the Bill. The Government have taken the appropriate course of action. In respect of the other offences, this measure finally lays to rest that much-debated subject of the person who has three convictions for not having a rear light on his vehicle in the previous three-year period. That could be construed to be an offence for gainindeed, it would be because it would save them the cost of replacing the light bulband so would expose them to a parallel world in which they had to run the risk of having their assets confiscated, having been deemed to have a criminal lifestyle. To avoid confiscation, they would have the onerous burden placed on them of having to prove that they did not have a criminal lifestyle and having to show where their assets came from.
I welcome this measure. Of all the concessions that have been gently wrested from the Government during the passage of the Bill, this is the most significant. I am delighted that the Government have finally seen sense on this issue. As the Minister knows, we share with him the desire that this legislation should work. It will work only if it commands widespread public approval and is seen to be fair. This is a major step in that direction, and I am grateful to the Minister that, in the light of what happened in the Lords and the serious reservations that were expressed, he has seen fit to introduce this amendment.
Before we move on to the other matter that falls to be considered[Interruption.] I did not think that the Minister went into any great length on the amendment of Lord Lloyd of Berwick. If he intended to cover it in this group, I shall reply to it at the same time.