The right of property under A1P1- Supreme Court sees that it has teeth

R v. Waya [2012] UKSC 51, 14 November 2012, read judgment

Traditionally, the qualified right to peaceful possession of property conferred by Article 1 of the 1st Protocol (A1P1) has been thought of as a rather feeble entitlement, easily outweighed by public interests. After all, every day of the week, the modern state affects that right – think taxes or planning restrictions, or business bans arising out of public health concerns (e.g. see here), where removal and confiscation or restriction on what we do with property is readily accepted. Last week the Supreme Court ruled that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) needs a bit of remedial HR surgery as and when its blunderbuss rules would otherwise have a disproportionate effect on those affected. But the importance of the ruling extends far beyond the specific statutory context.

The story is a familiar one. Parliament, quite rightly, decided that we needed a way of taking the benefits of crime away from criminals on conviction – over and above the system of fines. But it also realised that without some set rules this will prove difficult, if not impossible, to administrate. If the exercise were to be to ascertain the net benefit of the crime, then we get into frightful tangles. Can a defendant set off against his profit of crime his expenses – the cash to the getaway driver, the bung to the dodgy public official, or the contract killing payment?  The answer in the statute, and in this decision, is – No. This would be offensive and impractical. So far, so good.

But how far may the answer to the question – what did D really gain from this crime – diverge from the answer given by the statute? This was the conundrum facing the Supreme Court. And it found it very difficult. It had an initial hearing in 2011 in front of 7 judges – but then requested a re-hearing in front of 9. And those 9 split 7-2 in the result, thought the critical reasoning was common to all 9 judges.

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