UK Liberty

Farce

Posted in law and order by ukliberty on May 6, 2008

The Telegraph:

A convicted drugs criminal has escaped an order to have up to £4.5 million of his assets confiscated because no legal aid barrister would take on the case. …

The Crown Prosecution Service estimated that his criminal lifestyle had netted him £4.5 million, but were seeking to confiscate £1.5 million in the first instance.

In short his assets were frozen so he was unable to hire a barrister using his personal wealth.  But no qualified barrister would take on the case because legal aid (to which the defendant is now entitled) doesn’t pay enough.

The judge suggested that a less qualified barrister could take the case on but Mr Versfeld pointed out that it was contrary to the Bar’s code of conduct for a barrister to accept instructions on a case that he or she was not experienced in.

Therefore the defendant won his appeal to set aside the confiscation order for £1.5m.

The case has highlighted the inadequacy of funding regulations, introduced in October 2005, which introduced a fixed scale of fees.

It also exposed the “draconian” provisions of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 under which offenders convicted of a drugs-related offence faced having assets seized that could in theory be counted as gained from a “criminal lifestyle”.

“So although this defendant was convicted of offences only involving a few hundred pounds’ worth of cannabis, he found himself at risk of losing £4.5 million worth of assets – with the burden on him to prove that they were not ill-gotten gains. On top of that, he was prohibited from using those assets for his own defence,” Mr Versfeld said.

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