The government's Proceeds of Crime Bill, part of last month's Queen's Speech, is considered unlikely by lawyers to ever become legislation because of a Strasbourg judgment that is due this month
Key fraud lawyers argue that the Government is walking a narrow tightrope in introducing the bill just weeks before the European Court of Human Rights judgment on whether a confiscation order made at first instance against convicted cannabis importer Steven Phillips breached his human rights. Newport Crown Court made the £91,400 confiscation order in 1996 under the Drug Trafficking Act 1994, which enabled judges, without proof, to make a mandatory presumption that drug traffickers lived off the proceeds of their crimes. The confiscation order against Phillips was made in part on the basis of a £50,000 house that he had bought in 1988. The Proceeds of Crime Bill seeks to apply to all criminals a presumption of guilt in relation to them living off the proceeds of crime. Also, convicted individuals who cannot or will not explain the sources of their income can also have their assets confiscated or be subject to higher than average taxation. The body that determines a person's assets derive from their criminal activity is the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency. One leading fraud lawyer said: "The Government doesn't put itself in the position where it knows it breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, but it's walking a tightrope with this bill." Coincidentally, the day after the Queen's Speech a court hearing date was set for what is described as the UK's largest confiscation case against Mohammad Tahir, Fida Rasool and Ghulam Abbas, who last year were found guilty of conspiracy to fraudulently evade duty. The length of the confiscation case was recently increased from about two to four weeks.