02/06/2015 - 16:44

Double-edged sword in crime fight

02/06/2015 - 16:44

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Double-edged sword in crime fight
TOUGH: Natalie Skead says aspects of WA’s proceeds of crime legislation are too harsh. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A $2.3 MILLION allocation last week to charity from funds confiscated by police highlights the good that can come from freezing proceeds of crime valued at $158 million during the past three years.

However, some have concerns that the laws allowing these confiscations are too harsh.

Last year police in Western Australia issued 165 freeze notices and seized more than $50 million worth of assets such as homes and cars, as well as unexplained wealth under proceeds of crime law.

In WA, police use the proceeds from the sale of confiscated assets to target organised crime, as well as to assist organisations running community programs aimed at reducing crime, providing support to victims or reducing drug and alcohol abuse.

The $2.3 million awarded by the state government went to 16 programs, including St John of God Subiaco Hospital’s substance abuse withdrawal service, Subiaco Football Club’s program for at-risk youth to stave off anti-social behaviour, and Jobs South West’s program providing intensive case management support for youth who have been in trouble with the law.

Typically, with proceeds of crime the onus is on the person whose property is to be confiscated to show, in relation to unexplained wealth for example, that they obtained the property legally.

Assets can also be confiscated without a person being convicted of a crime.

University of Western Australia Law School associate dean Natalie Skead told Business News that while the proceeds of crime law existed for good reason, certain aspects of the state’s legislation were extremely harsh.

For example, assets acquired even before the Criminal Property Confiscation Act came into effect in 2000 can be frozen, making it difficult for those who have obtained assets legally to prove so, especially since banks only keep records for seven years.

WA’s legislation also does not allow for judicial discretion, such as exempting a home also used by a charged person’s children or parents from confiscation so they have somewhere to live.

“Where confiscation is disproportionate with the conduct of the respondent or where the confiscation would cause undue harm or where it’s not in the public interest, the court should have some discretion. They don’t have any (in WA) and they do in other states,” Associate Professor Skead said.

In some cases, she said, goodwill was exercised, such as in the early 2000s when an elderly WA couple whose son was convicted of dealing drugs from the family home was allowed to move back into their home, which had been confiscated, in exchange for peppercorn rent.

“But you can’t rely on goodwill, there need to be legislative protections, particularly for innocent third parties,” Associate Professor Skead said.

She said politicians were unlikely to support amending WA’s criminal property confiscation act.

“The difficulty with it is that from both sides of politics there isn’t an appetite to weaken the legislation in any way because it does send a really strong message to the electorate that the government is serious about fighting crime,” she said.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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