I am sitting back reflecting and looking at the bigger picture in the world of serious crime, prosecutions, convictions, criminal defence, prison, criminal property and proceeds of crime.

I muse upon a man and his family in their kitchen knitting socks with a brand logo intending to sell them on a weekend market for cash. Is this really to be regarded as part of the foundations of international serious crime and a legitimate target for harsh criminal punishment, and draconian additional punishment under e.g. the Proceeds of Crime Act. Should it instead be looked upon as just a run-of-the-mill offence which is localised? Will the proceeds in reality be going anywhere near Columbian drug lords or Russian crime syndicates?

The reason I raise the question is because increasingly there is a feeling that the policing of our society is being changed fundamentally by placing the burden of law enforcement, normally considered part of the remit of the state, onto unwilling citizens who are burdened with increasing red tape and threat of punishment for not taking on the job of a law enforcement officer aka the police. The foundation or excuse for burgeoning people with this unwanted task is what many regard as scaremongering in which the real need for vigilance against terrorists and truly serious international crime is being watered down by in effect being delegated to untrained individuals without the necessary skills or powers required namely you and me.

Added to this is the feeling that making Suspicious Activity Reports (which in itself seems to be unnecessarily difficult) does nothing more than place somewhere in electronic filing system information which will not be acted upon unless some other enquiry resurrects it. It is incumbent upon those in certain sectors to make these reports and the threat of severe penalty. Reports are not, as many believed they would be, useful intelligence and information upon which law officers will immediately act. It would appear that there is no appetite for following up the enquiries from these leads. Instead there is an expectation that the layman will carry out all manner of enquiry to provide a ready packaged easy prosecution. There are increasing reports to the effect that frauds of under £100,000 are not even looked at and only a tiny proportion of high-value frauds are pursued. I will not dwell upon the difficulty of making suspicious activity reports save to say that the online forms have defeated some of the best legal brains in the country presumably because it is a way of logging information for a computer algorithm rather than obtaining the information upon which to instigate a police enquiry and subsequent prosecution. The recent report as to the efforts of the SFO in terms of number of cases prosecuted and number of convictions actually secured gives no grounds for optimism. It makes depressing reading and seems to be totally ineffective from a cost against returns point of view. Even when substantial orders for recovery of monies are made e.g. proceeds of crime orders, a disappointingly small proportion of money is actually recovered. It is not just a question of funding resources or a question of lack of police and investigators although these are valid points. There appears to be an obsession with charging and getting convictions for every possible wrongdoing and achieving the maximum sentences. If a criminal is given seven years prison rather than 12 for stealing money does it really matter? If he is convicted of two rather than five offences is the public interest not served?

To be continued…

Make sure to visit us next week to read the riveting conclusion!

This blog was written by:  Stephen Fox

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