Our criminal justice system has grown up over centuries as our society has progressed and is thought to be fair. Others criticise us, saying perhaps we are too soft on criminals. However, being magnanimous is probably better than being ruled by autocrats and tyrants. Better than having a hand chopped off for stealing. Better than being shot in the back of the head for actively opposing a regime.
The criminal justice system provides a balanced approach to dealing with crime. We believe in someone being innocent until proven guilty – the right to be heard by your peer – these are the mainstay of our whole modern way of thinking and has served us well on more occasions than it has failed. A very important element of this system is the right of criminals to present a case to defend themselves – the right to be heard. This is fundamental.
Criminal defence in the UK (or criminal defense in the USA) does mean that the whole judicial system is somewhat adversarial. We feel that the actions of the regulators and prosecutors must be tempered by a criminal defense system to ensure that they do not ride roughshod unfairly over the criminals, some who may well not be guilty, or as guilty, as their accusers say. We must make sure that the system is properly managed, adequately funded and reaches the results that everybody wants – to punish and deter the criminals and to recognize when a person is not guilty or perhaps not as guilty as the indictments suggest.
The application of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in the UK can provide an example of potential problems arising if the criminal defence team is not able to challenge the prosecution’s position. If somebody has been convicted of a crime they will have to serve a sentence proportionate to that crime – maybe in jail. But with POCA it is necessary to make sure that crime does not pay – so no longer can a person rob a bank, do time in jail only to be released a rich man! The conviction is now followed by confiscation proceedings. This is intended to stop crime paying – to take away the wealth of the lifestyle criminals.
However, the provisions within POCA allow for the possibility that somebody who steals only a modest amount may still be presumed to have a criminal life style. The Crown will apply for confiscation of everything the criminal owns – plus what he has assumed to have received – for several years previously. Obviously this needs to be challenged as the assumptions can be sweeping and need not be underpinned by evidence. It is up to the criminal defense team to show assets have been paid for with legitimate funds and that are receipts over the preceeding years are not from crime.
Sometime it is difficult to find adequate accounting evidence to show this, even by using forensic accountants, and a person is ordered to pay back more than he stole, more than even he possesses. If he is unable to do this he is in default and may be given substantial additional custodial time! This is why sufficient funding for the criminal defence team, including for a forensic accountant to do a full and detailed response to the Prosecution’s case, is essential if justice is to be done.