Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA)
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Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (References to Financial Investigators) (Amendment) Order 2009 (Compiled in response to a Motion to revoke - Earl of Onslow/ Lord Brett - Oral Questions: House of Lords: 7 December 2009 - Orders and Regulations)
The Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) is an essential tool to protect consumers from criminals.
From our point of view POCA powers are vital in bringing criminals to task, to stop them feeding off the vulnerable and undermining legitimate businesses. Trading Standards often exercises its POCA powers in tandem with the police or other significant enforcement agencies.
What the extended powers mean to a trading standards officer is that if they intercept a counterfeit seller on a market stall, they can not only seize the goods, but also the cash made selling them. Asset recovery is critical in the fight against all levels of crime – adding the ability to recover money has simply made this tool sharper. In the modern era trading standards officers and services are engaged in the fight against crime and criminal activity, at all levels and involving all ranges of illegally gained financial assets.
All agencies involved in financial investigation seek to protect victims of crime but also to remove those assets derived from criminal activity. The Legislation is applied in a proportionate and fair way.
All financial investigators, irrespective of the organisation that employs them, must undertake an extensive and rigorous training programme. Without such accreditation they cannot obtain financial material from banks and other institutions.
The UK enjoys a national network of financial investigators that operates to a common minimum standard. This standard involves continued professional development and if any financial investigator falls foul of that standard they are removed from the list and cannot continue to operate in that capacity.
The power for local authorities to conduct financial investigations has been around for some time and there are many examples where their investigators have assisted in dealing with organised criminal activity that has made huge (and unlawful) financial benefit.
Trading Standards deal with many cases of counterfeiting and in some of these cases there are serious public protection and health issues that citizens rightly expect them to address.
Confiscation / forfeiture of assets is always subject to scrutiny by the courts. This requirement will apply to any other body in the future, providing an important safeguard to ensure the powers are used appropriately and this approach has been tested by the European Court of Human Rights.
There is no evidence of misuse or abuse of POCA powers and procedure by trading standards officers (trained and competent financial investigators) or local authority trading standards services.
Any loss of POCA powers would seriously undermine the ability of trading standards to investigate and secure sanctions and illegal asset recovery against unforgiving and unprincipled criminals.