Longer Prison Sentences Will Not Solve Our Confiscation Crisis

Facing withering criticism from the Chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, a Senior Ministry of Justice official issued an ominous warning last week.

Mark Sedwill, answering questions from Chair Margaret Hodge MP, said that Government Ministers were considering changing the law to allow courts to impose even longer prison sentences in the face of criticism that the enforcement record of the authorities in recovering Confiscation Orders had been an abject failure.

Mr. Sedwill did not provide any further details of the Government’s proposals.

Mr. Sedwill’s also claimed that the yardstick of the success of the confiscation regime should not be the revenue raised – an estimated £133m in 2011-12 against a cost to the taxpayer of £100m – but in the effect, it had in deterring criminals from further offending.

At present those that default on Confiscation Orders can face prison sentences of up to ten years in addition to any penalty for the offence they are convicted of.  They are still liable to pay the sum owed once they serve the default sentence, with interest charged at 8% per annum.

As discussed elsewhere in this blog, there is little evidence that the threat of a lengthy prison sentence either acts as a deterrent or is effective in persuading offenders to cough up and pay the amounts they owe.  In fact, only 2% of offenders paid in full once a default sentence was imposed according to the National Audit Office Report published on the 17th December 2013.