The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Arthur Daley Principle

I have blogged on numerous occasions about the rapid growth in asset confiscation, mostly under the Proceeds of Crime Act, known as POCA in the trade. It's a complex issue, and one about which I have mixed feelings. Of course we all remember that the Feds could never touch Al Capone for racketeering, but finally nailed him for tax evasion. No one could seriously dispute the justice of confiscating the cash in a drug dealer's attic, or the Essex hacienda with £150,000 worth of wheels behind the electric gates, whose owner has never declared more than £35,000 a year income. Rough justice, but justice it is, I think.
My misgivings arise, as so often, with the mission creep that has characterised this Government's approach to the justice system. The amount of cash that has to be justified to avoid its seizure has steadily dropped until it now stands at just £1000. As I wrote a few weeks ago, small-fry immigrant workers who have slogged their guts out have had their wages seized at the airport because of a visa irregularity, the final insult being that they have already paid tax and insurance on the cash. The court proceedings are civil ones, which lowers the standard of proof and also means that legal aid is not available. My real bottom line on the Bench is of course the law, but not far behind that is the question "Is this fair?" A man from one of the Whatever-Stans who speaks basic English and doesn't really know what's going on is no match for a barrister instructed by Police or Customs. That's not fair.
But there's more. This piece in The Times refers to the now-usual practice of divvying up the seized cash between the investigating agency, the courts' service and the Treasury. That's wrong (and yes I know it happens with speed cameras too). While there is not the slightest financially driven pressure on the bench, it is still improper to treat the cash this way. Seized funds should be paid to the Consolidated Fund (HM's Big Piggy Bank) and the agencies be allocated enough cash to do their job and no more. To do otherwise will skew priorities, harm justice, and eventually lead to corruption. I expect her Majesty's Government to operate under a higher set of principles than those of Arthur Daley.