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Will your company be hit by an ASBO?

Sidestepping fair trials?

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The Home Office wants to issue control orders to businesses as well as individuals. An ASBO for businesses is the central proposal of a parliamentary Green Paper from the Home Office published this week.

Home Secretary John Reid wants to tackle organised crime, and has proposed a series of measures that can be taken against businesses without the burden of proof required by a criminal court.

"Currently law enforcement authorities essentially have a choice between prosecution or no action when dealing with organised crime," said Reid in his introduction to the paper. "That can be a stark and unproductive choice and we see a place for something in between – organised crime prevention orders – which could be imposed on individuals or organisation in such a way as to prevent organised criminality continuing."

The paper itself says that the measures would be used where there was not enough evidence to prove wrongdoing, and to anticipate and prevent criminal activity before it happened.

"These sort of orders might be used in cases where there was a strong weight of evidence but either not enough for a prosecution, prosecution was planned but additional measures were urgently needed to prevent harms in the interim, prosecution had been ruled not appropriate on public interest grounds, or the evidence of criminal activity could not be prosecuted (e.g. because it took place overseas)," it says. "These sorts of orders could be imposed to prevent criminal activity in the first place."

The new proposals also make a case for more liberal data sharing between government bodies, and between public and private organisations.

"To make a real impact, law enforcement needs to use a lot more than the information at its own disposal," says the paper. "It has become increasingly clear from discussions with our stakeholders that data sharing with other parts of the public sector is highly patchy, while sharing across the public/private divide is rarely even attempted."

"This paper sets out some simple and practical steps for improved data sharing, which we believe could make a considerable impact against financial crime, fraud and money laundering," it says.

The Green Paper has been presented to Parliament and is subject to a consultation period that runs until 17th October. The results of that consultation will be made public in November.

If adopted as law, the proposals could have serious implications for hackers and others suspected of using computers to commit crime. The paper contains proposals permitting the confiscation of equipment under a Prevention Order as well as having limits placed on their financial activities, such as using only certain credit cards which have been cleared by the Home Office.

These sanctions would also be available to the government without the securing of a criminal conviction against individuals or organisations.

Struan Robertson, editor of OUT-LAW.COM, said: "The Government has a challenge on its hands to write a law that balances its proposal to punish people and organisations for crimes that it cannot prove with the safeguards in the European Convention of Human Rights, notably the right to a fair trial."

See also:

Home Office Green Paper (51-page / 1MB PDF)

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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