6 February 2012

Proceeds of Crime

OK, that's the title of my current work in progress, a follow up to Due Diligence.

For once, I'm not blogging about writing. This one's about injustice.

When I was young, the prospect of living in a totalitarian state was the stuff of nightmares and the foundation of nuclear resistance. Since the collapse of the communist bloc, we have put our minds at rest and taken our collective eye off the ball.

The terrifying part of totalitarianism was the lack of protection for the individual against arbitrary decisions of the state apparatchik. If an official took a dim view of you they could strip you of your possessions and throw you into jail without any checks or balances being applied.

There would be nobody to turn to for help, no recourse to the proper application of fair and equitable laws.

There is a body called the Crown Prosecution Service that decides whether or not it is in the public interest to prosecute a case. This is the part of the system that provides us with protection against arbitrary prosecution. In this way, we prevent the use of huge amounts of public money in pursuing a case that is either flimsy and not likely to succeed or so trivial that even a sucessful outcome would gain little or nothing.

There is one organisation that can prosecute people outside the system that protects us.
The same organisation can obtain a restraint order under the Proceeds of Crime Act merely by appearing before a judge and presenting one side of the case. Restraint Orders were designed to prevent drug dealers and terrorists from moving money overseas as soon as they realise they might be prosecuted.

The organisation that can act without any supervision is the Environment Agency. If it prosecutes someone without just cause there is no manner of redress. If the EA obtains a restraint order, freezes bank accounts, ruins businesses, causes distress and hardship without adequate justification it cannot be held to account. Why? Because the law never contemplated its use by the Environment Agency.

Why does the EA use the Proceeds of Crime Act? Because it keeps a third of any money confiscated. Fines from sucessful prosecutions go to the Treasury, to the taxpayer. Proceeds of crime can be kept in part by the EA for their own use.

Clients of mine had their house and office raided, all their accounts frozen, all their documents and computer discs taken by the EA. Their lives were put on hold, their business practically ruined. Over three years later, the EA has failed to gain a sucessful prosecution despite spending vast sums of public money. The family have no recourse at all against the agency officer who made the case her own personal vendetta.

You might think that the EA was protecting us and our environment against some atrocity. You would be wrong. Their case only ever included clean excavation soils which had been used to improve land which not only had valid planning permission but had also been granted authorisation to do this by the Environment Agency itself.

Not the stuff of a believable plot, I think you will agree. As someone once said, fiction has to make sense, reality rarely does.

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