Clause 69 - Powers of court and receiver

Part of Proceeds of Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster 2:30, 29 Tachwedd 2001

I support the amendment so eloquently moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). It is incumbent upon the Government at this juncture either to draw up some detailed guidelines, or at least provide some guidance from the Minister as to an effective compensation programme for those who would otherwise lose out as a result of the provisions and extensive powers of the court and the receiver. In particular, there needs to be some consideration about effective—as opposed to simply the legal minimum—compensation for those who are found innocent in the longer term.

As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, such new and extensive powers could affect the innocent, not just the guilty. As has rightly been said, they go considerably beyond any other similar set-up, although, as I said earlier, there is at least some analogy with insolvency provisions. Clearly, however, we are not talking about an insolvency case, but about someone who may be innocent.

I have two worries. The first is in relation to the general rule that economic loss is not usually considered. A possible scenario is that over a period of two or three years—following the restraint order coming into place and while the investigation carries on, leading finally to acquittal—an individual's business may be entirely ruined. The goodwill is lost, and the person is in no fit state, mentally or physically, to carry on the business. As such, he finds himself at a massive loss. Indeed, assets that are restrained and subsequently sold off may be somewhat undervalued. I appreciate that it is extremely difficult to quantify the exact value. However, surely it is incumbent on any governing body or authority to give us guidelines to ensure that there is effective and correct compensation.

A second aspect worries me deeply, because I have never supported this country's signing up to the European convention on human rights. However, our nation could encounter great problems as a result of a claim under that convention by an individual who felt that his rights were being infringed, not least by a long-standing case that had resulted in neither conviction nor acquittal—or, indeed, by a fully-fledged acquittal.

This is in part a probing amendment, and I would be interested to know about the thought mechanism behind it. The procedure is new, so we need the Minister to say more than, ``Well, there are legal guidelines in place for existing procedures,'' because this procedure goes more than a few steps further forward. It would be difficult to draw up subsections on the hoof, but I would like to know what the Government are thinking both specifically about clause 69, and about such cases in general, because I suspect that such a procedure will appear in many future Acts dealing with the proceeds of crime or other criminality.