Confiscation proceedings for cable thieves yields £7

Confiscation proceedings for cable thieves yields £7



Last December (17th December 2013 to be precise), seven men were jailed for Conspiracy to Steal. They had stolen about 7,000 metres of copper cable, valued at about £150,000 – not to be sniffed at. The prison sentences varied from 21 to 30 months.

Confiscation As is often the case with financial offences, the Court proceeds to confiscation. This has a laudable aim of depriving criminals of the proceeds of their crime. It has, however, caused a whole lot of problems, with many trips to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. It has, in fact, almost certainly cost more money than it has brought in.

On 20th August 2014 the Confiscation Proceedings in this case were heard. In relation to all seven defendants, the Judge determined that, basically, they didn’t have any money. And so there was a nominal order against all defendants of £1 each.

How much did this cost? We don’t know. There are hugely different estimates of how much a Crown Court costs to run, but let’s take a figure of £3,000 a day. It is hard to imagine that a case such as this would have been resolved in less than a day in total. Add in the same amount, if not more, for the prosecution to investigate and prosecute the confiscation and a couple of hundred for the defence lawyers, and it’s already quite a lot of money. It wouldn’t surprise me if the total cost was over ten grand, all for seven quid – so not a great return on your investment.

Is it worth it? It is right that if one of them one the lottery tomorrow then this means that the government can go back for more. This is pretty unlikely however, and whilst if there is legitimate earnings down the line, then I would question whether this is a proper use of state funds.

The argument is that it shouldn’t be a cost benefit analysis when it comes to this sort of thing. I sort of agree with that, but equally, confiscation is not supposed to be a penalty (even though it is now, given the way that it has developed).

On balance, justice shouldn’t come down to cost. But, the government is happy to sacrifice that principle in other areas of law, so why not this one? Maybe it’s time to cut back on the confiscation…

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. I only know about this case what I have read in the press. It appears that the 7 men sold the stolen cable for £25,000 (the £150,000 figure is the cost of repairing the overhead cables) & that in confiscation each of the 7 were treated as having obtained one-seventh of that £25,000, which is a little over £3,500. (That might be regarded as a ‘mistake’ – the more normal approach in confiscation proceedings would be for each of them to have been regarded as having jointly obtained the entire £25,000).

    It would also appear that, on the available information, none of the 7 men were regarded as having a ‘criminal lifestyle’ for confiscation purposes. There is no mention of any compensation orders (as distinct from confiscation orders) having been made in this case.

    Of course the Crown would not know whether any of the 7 men had any available amount until after a financial investigation had been undertaken. It is also true (as mentioned in your article) that a confiscation order is effectively a ‘life sentence’ and that at any time in the future the Crown may make application against any or all of them to enforce payment from them of their personal ‘benefit’.

    On reflection, as this was not a ‘criminal lifestyle’ case, it might have been wiser for the prosecution to seek compensation orders rather than confiscation orders against each man.

    Nevertheless the evidence suggests that many low value confiscation orders are made in Crown Courts in England & Wales and that there is a high level of success in collecting monies due in respect of those orders. Where the confiscation regime has failed – spectacularly it may be said – is in the collection of the relatively small number of very high value confiscation orders, some in multi-million pound amounts.

    This area has been the subject of a National Audit Office report and a report by the Public Accounts Committee as discussed in my article Confiscation orders – Public Accounts Committee report.

    Amendments to confiscation law are currently before Parliament as noted in my article Reform of confiscation law.

    The government’s present intention appears to be to encourage more – not less – use of confiscation proceedings in future.