Soca

What joy, eh, to be living in such a system?

Soca – which last year replaced the Assets Recovery Agency, after it had spent £65 million to recover £23 million – assumes that if someone has benefited from the proceeds of crime for more than six months, he is living "a criminal lifestyle". Everything he owns can then be deemed to have derived from criminal activity.

In the case of Charlie and Charles McBride, all their assets were thus valued at more than £1 million, including their boat and homes (valued at the height of the property boom). On this basis Judge Nigel Gilmour not only imposed on them fines of £385,000 – infinitely more than the value of the fish they had wrongly declared – but ruled that all their assets should be frozen as "proceeds of crime", even though the home and boat had been bought before the offences were committed. He also told the men that, unless they paid the fines within six months, they would go to prison for up to three years.

At their wits\’ end as to how to raise the money, the two McBrides negotiated a second mortgage on their homes. Charlie McBride presented Soca with £120,000, asking that it should be taken as a down-payment on the fine until he had somehow found the rest. The agency asked how he had come by the money and, when told that it came from remortgaging his house, told him that he would be charged with contempt of court because the house was a "frozen asset".

Two weeks ago the two men were accordingly jailed for contempt, and having been allowed one telephone call to tell his wife Karen what had happened, Charlie is now serving out his sentence as a prison refuse collector.

Leave aside the whole point about what they are accused of. Think about the actual logic of the fines.

You must pay us lots of money. But you cannot use your own money to pay us because we\’ve already frozen it.

We used to, however mistakenly, be proud of the essence of fairness at the centre of our legal system.

No longer, eh?

8 comments on “Soca

  1. Fairness disappeared long ago.

    Incidentally I am currently sitting on a Caribbean island where I am watching a small legal dispute between two parties. The island was a British colony and thus has British common law. It would appear, however, that it has British law without the accumulation of nonsensical jurisprudence caused by excessive legislation.

    It seems to function pretty well, and fairly.

  2. I have often said that we have lots of law in this country but hardly any justice. It would seem that the letter of the law has been applied and very zealously. The Martime Fisheries Agency are acting more like pirates involving SOCA. Spanish authorities bend over backwards to support their fishermen and will turn a blind eye to fish deemed too small and so on. But the British love of rules and law, even when utterly perverse, wins the day. These two have been totally ruined, ultimately by Ted Heath from beyond the grave, foor his desperation in joining the EU (EEC) was cemented and confirmed by him giving up our fishing waters to the wretched EU.

  3. The British legal system likes nothing better than getting the small man between the pincers. These men did no-one any harm.
    What they should have done is chuck the illegal catch over the side. Our ministers bleed the taxpayeras a matter of course and get off scot free.

  4. They actually entered a closed loop from which there is no escape. Innocent or guilty, you can’t get out.

  5. Is there not any legal mechanism to stop SOCA being used against people who are not even suspected of being involved in organised crime? That’s what the law was written for, it’s what it’s designed for; the “OC” in “SOCA” stands for “Organised Crime”. So is there no judge who’d chuck this one out of court on the same grounds as he’d chuck out, say, a case against a man accused of breaking building regulations who had not in fact built anything?

    Statute creep has been happening with the RICO laws in the US, too, though not, as far as I know, for anything this mundane.

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