Senate Begins Debate on Proceeds of Crime Act


Debate on the Proceeds of Crime Act, which will provide for the forfeiture of the assets and properties of persons, found to have accumulated wealth through criminal activities, began in the Senate yesterday (Feb. 22).
The legislation, which has already been passed in the House of Representatives, will repeal and replace the Drug Offences (Forfeiture of Proceeds) and Money Laundering Acts.
Minister of Justice, Senator A. J. Nicholson, who piloted the Bill, argued that because professional and habitual criminals were usually motivated and empowered by profit, one of the most effective ways to fight crime was to deprived criminals of the profits of their crimes.
“The Proceeds of Crime Act will provide for a more comprehensive and effective scheme for the forfeiture of the proceeds of crime and the prevention of money laundering,” he noted.
Senator Nicholson pointed out that while the Act empowered the court, on conviction of a person for a criminal offence, to order the forfeiture of any property used in connection with the offence, there was also increased power to order forfeiture in the absence of a criminal conviction. “The court can order the forfeiture of any property, which was obtained through unlawful conduct, but no one has to be convicted or even charged with the unlawful conduct,” he stated.
The Bill, he further noted, included provisions that made it illegal for properties confiscated from criminals to fall in the hands of someone, who obtained the property in good faith, and provisions to protect innocent third parties.
Opposition Senator, Dorothy Lightbourne, while expressing support for the Bill, raised concern about certain provisions, which she said could impinge on the rights of persons.
“We do appreciate what this Bill is trying to achieve but at the same time, there needs to be a balance. We should not go overboard where we throw through the window, established legal principles that protect the fundamental rights, the protection given to our citizens and their civil rights under the Constitution, that we seek to protect the presumption of innocence,” she stated.
Opposition Senator, Christopher Tufton in his contribution to the debate, noted that because under the proposed legislation, a person’s assets may be confiscated without a conviction, “then as a country, we must find a way to frame this legislation so that we minimize as best as we can, the use of discretion, the use of assumptions, and probability to pursue individuals, who could be wrongly accused and the appropriate impact on their reputation would follow”. Senator Tufton also called on the Upper House to provide a clearer definition for the term “criminal lifestyle”, as this definition allowed for discretion and assumptions that may be dangerous.
The debate will continue today (Feb. 23) in the Senate.

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