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Home Office proposes ASBO-style Organised Crime Prevention Orders

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:28 pm on 19 July, 2006.
Categories democracy and the rule of law.
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Hat tip: Spy blog.

The Home Office has published a consultation document which proposes a new type of ASBO-style order to be imposed on individuals suspected of involvement in serious crime, called Organised Crime Prevention Orders (or alternatively Serious Crime Prevention Orders).

These orders would be imposed by a High Court judge, after a civil hearing. They could be imposed where it is shown, on balance of probabilities, that the subject:

Has acted in a way which facilitated or was likely to facilitate the commissioning of serious crime. (Chapter 3, page 30 of the consultation document)

Note that:

  • There’s no need to show the subject’s actions were either unlawful or did in fact facilitate the commissioning of serious crime. All that you need do is convince the judge that the subject’s actions could have facilitated serious crime.
  • The subject need not have been charged with or convicted of any offence.

The orders would impose conditions on the subject, breach of which would carry a maximum 5 year jail sentence, just like ASBOs, and the terms of an order would be those the court considers:

necessary and proportionate to prevent such harms in future (also from Ch. 3 page 30).

Examples from the document of possible conditions that could be imposed on an individual include:

  • Restrictions on an individual’s financial dealings, e.g. requiring them to use certain accounts or credit cards,
  • Restrictions on the amount of cash an individual is allowed to carry,
  • Compulsory purchase of their business or property, or requiring individuals to divest themselves of certain possessions the court believes have been used to facilitate the commission of serious crime.

Also, unlike ASBOs, the orders could be placed on businesses and other organisations (on the same basis as for individuals). With businesses, examples of possible conditions that could be imposed include (as well as some of the above powers, e.g, those relating to compulsory purchase of businesses and property):

  • Requirements to remove directors,
  • Powers for the court to direct how the business is conducted and structured,
  • Restricting a business’s activities in certain areas or who they do business with, or
  • Requirements to restructure the organisation.

The document proposes using these orders both as an adjunct to prosecution, and an alternative to prosecution where there is insufficient evidence to convict.

I emphasise that all of these things can be done without anyone being convicted of an offence or being proven (even on balance of probability) to have done anything unlawful or being proven (even on balance of probabilities) to have facilated serious crime — all that is required is that the judge be convinced that the individual or business concerned has acted in a manner that could have facilitated serious crime.

It seems to me this sort of power will provide ample opportunity for corrupt officials and unscrupulous businesses to fit people up in order to get hold of or destroy their businesses. After all if a prima facie case gets presented to a high court judge, the subject of the proceedings would essentially have to prove their innocence to prevent being landed with an OCPO.

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