A fragmented approach to the recovery of assets has led to criminals retaining most of their illegal gains. In the last five years, confiscation orders have been raised in an average of only 20 per cent of drugs cases in which they were available, and 0.3 per cent of other crime cases. Police forces rarely pursue the assets of criminals and when they do so it is often too late because they have been moved on. The collection rate is running at an average of 40 per cent or less of the amounts ordered by the courts to be seized.The Cabinet Office’s Performance and Innovation Unit in their report ‘Recovering the Proceeds of Crime’ highlight the weaknesses of current arrangements and advocate a joined up approach to seizure of criminal assets with action from all parts of the criminal justice system. The report also sets out the need for better trained and supported law enforcement officers able to pursue complex financial investigations.
The key element of the Government’s response to the report is the drawing up of a cross-cutting strategy to remove proceeds of crime, involving the police, Customs, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Inland Revenue and Whitehall Departments. The strategy is due to be completed by December 2000. This is the first time that Law enforcement agencies have co-operated in this way and the expectation is that by pooling their collective expertise it will be possible to hit criminals where it hurts – in the pocket.
The strategy will be driven forward by a new National Confiscation Agency which will fosters a more rigorous approach to depriving criminals of their unlawful gains. There will also be new legal powers to recover the proceeds of crime currently beyond the reach of the law and to enable the courts to call convicted criminals to account for their wealth, wherever there has been a benefit from crime.
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