Clause 7 - Confiscation of assets

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 9 Medi 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:00, 9 Medi 2014

I will come to that in a couple of moments, but first I will finish discussing ARIS. Although the scheme is not on a statutory footing, there is an expectation that the moneys distributed under ARIS will be used to fund improvements in asset recovery or for front-line policing. There is therefore no need to ring-fence a proportion of assets specifically for the police to fund modern slavery operations. It is for the police to determine how they use the funds available to them, but we expect that seized assets will be used for front-line operations.

I have briefly discussed the Serious Crime Bill. Third-party claims are responsible for delays in the confiscation process, which they needlessly complicate and lengthen. The Serious Crime Bill enables the court to determine the extent of the defendant’s interest in a particular property at the confiscation stage to help prevent late applications as a result of third parties delaying proceedings. The defendant will be required to confirm or deny the details of any potential third party interests, including spouses, identified by the prosecution. They will also be required to provide details of any actual or potential third party interest in any of the property that the court will take into account at the confiscation hearing that has not already been identified by the prosecution.

The shadow Minister asked if there was more that could be done by police and prosecutors to restrain or confiscate assets overseas. That is something that is close to my heart because I have been on a number of  foreign trips where the topic of asset recovery has been discussed. Making that a priority for overseas Governments as much as for our own is incredibly important to ensure that we can seize those assets and ensure they are taken from the criminals. We are looking through the serious and organised crime strategy at the recovery of hidden assets abroad. The UK is engaging with key countries to encourage and improve international co-operation in asset recovery, which, historically, has been poor. We have already engaged with Spain, China and the United Arab Emirates and will be working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the CPS to negotiate further agreements and understandings with other key countries, including Romania, South Africa and Ghana. Those agreements relate to asset sharing. There is a long-standing international position that the country that enforces an overseas order in its territory keeps the assets that it confiscated. There is a young but developing international concept of assets being shared between countries, particularly where victims are involved. I emphasise that that is a new concept in international law—the CPS, for example, now has dedicated resources located in the priority countries, and works with prosecutors overseas and with others. We understand the ways in which we can seize assets from UK criminals who are located here, but there are other hurdles that have to be overcome locally in overseas jurisdictions. We need to understand all the nuances of the law and the legal systems to ensure that we are getting hold of those assets in a correct and appropriate way and depriving criminals of those assets.

The shadow Minister asked if there were any additional powers that might be useful in promoting success and recovering overseas assets. The tools for international recovery already provide for successful co-operation between the UK and our overseas counterparts. However, the tools have historically been underused, both here and overseas. The situation has undoubtedly improved, but there is more that can be done to encourage the use of those tools. Bilateral agreements that we have recently concluded and are seeking to negotiate with priority countries should have the effect of improving co-operation overseas. I hope that the new European Parliament and Commission will taking the issue seriously and look at it on a Europe-wide basis, ensuring that we have appropriate agreements to deprive serious criminals of their assets and to act as a much bigger deterrent than any jail sentence ever could.

There was a question about the integrity of the financial information and who carries out the investigations. Disclosure of assets is done as part of the financial investigation process that takes place for the confiscation hearing prior to a confiscation order being made. Financial investigators typically work for the police or the National Crime Agency and ensure that that information is gathered.

Clauses 8 and 9 deal with reparation orders, which are a new measure that the Government felt strongly should be introduced to ensure that victims received reparation for the suffering that they had been put through. Too often, the courts looked at financial loss in compensation orders and a victim of slavery clearly does not experience financial loss. We felt that a new order that recognised the unique circumstances of slavery victims was important. We have talked about success, but I want to put on the record the fact that there have been only three human trafficking cases in the past  11 years where both a compensation order and a confiscation order have been imposed. That is simply not good enough. We owe it to the victims to ensure that they receive the reparation that they properly and rightly deserve. We expect the courts to introduce reparation orders as a priority. I repeat that the victim has top priority over any assets seized. We expect victims to receive their reparation before any other authority or public body does so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and the shadow Minister asked why the word “may” is used rather than “shall”. We have considered that point long and hard. Should we impose this as a mandatory condition on the courts? On balance, we feel it is better to give the courts discretion not to make orders if, for example, the defendant does not have the assets to make full payment. We would do a disservice to victims if we led them to believe that the reparation order would come to them and then there were no assets and they felt deprived of the reparation they expected.