20 May 2014
Paulet v United Kingdom Paulet (application no. 6219/08) – read judgment
The Strasbourg Court has declared, by five votes to one, that the UK authorities had acted unlawfully by seizing the wages of an Ivorian worker who used a false passport to gain employment. The majority ruled that the UK courts should have balanced individual property rights against interests of the general public.
This case on the confiscation of the proceeds of crime raises many difficult legal questions such as the nature of the link between the crime and the proceeds and the distribution of the burden of proof in establishing this link. Mr Paulet complained that the confiscation order against him had been disproportionate as it amounted to the confiscation of his entire savings over nearly four years of genuine work, without any distinction being made between his case and those involving more serious criminal offences such as drug trafficking or organised crime. The Court found that the UK courts’ scope of review of Mr Paulet’s case had been too narrow. The majority objected to the fact that the domestic courts had simply found that the confiscation order against Mr Paulet had been in the public interest, without balancing that conclusion against his right to peaceful enjoyment of his possessions as required under the European Convention.
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18 November 2012
R v. Waya  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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