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…