An explanation as to why Rahman Ravelli Solicitors has gone to the highest UK and European courts to defend the rights and assets of its clients
AZIZ Rahman, of Rahman Ravelli Solicitors, has gone to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge the British government's power to seize an unconvicted person's assets in civil proceedings when they have been acquitted in a criminal court. As a specialist business crime lawyer, he has applied to the ECHR to contest the seizure of money and property belonging to his clients.
The properties and bank accounts of his clients, a Mr and Mrs Gale, were frozen because of a suspicion they were the proceeds of crime. Neither of the married couple has ever been convicted. At present, the government can gain a Civil Recovery Order (CRO) from court, under powers in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), to seize a person's assets even if the person has never been convicted.
The couple had both been acquitted of criminal offences in Portugal in 2001 and 2002. In 2005, the Assets Recovery Agency – since abolished, its functions now taken on by the Serious Organised Crime Agency – issued civil proceedings in the High Court for a CRO. The action relied in the main on the matters the couple had been acquitted of in Portugal. However, the lower, civil standard of proof applied. Following the High Court hearing and the making of the CRO, Mr Rahman applied to the UK Supreme Court. His application was based on Strasbourg case law, to the effect that once a defendant is acquitted the state cannot pursue him again in civil proceedings – or, if it did, the criminal standard of proof would have to apply to these criminal allegations.
A nine-man Panel Court found against the Gales but was troubled by what was described as a confusing area that needed further clarifi cation from the Strasbourg Grand Chamber. The appeal has now been lodged.
If the ECHR finds in favour of Mr Rahman's clients it will have massive implications. The government would then only be able to seize people's assets if they had proof “beyond reasonable doubt'' of their criminal activity. And many people who have already had assets seized without being convicted could demand the return of their property.
Mr Rahman said: “We have applied to the ECHR to seek justice for my clients and anyone else who may have found themselves in a similar position. This is being done in the interests of fairness and justice for anyone who has not been convicted and yet has had everything taken from them on the basis of suspicion.''
Mr Rahman's case is the only CRO under POCA to reach the highest court in the land.