The Serious Crime Act 2007 (“the Act”) received royal assent on 30 October 2007 and made several significant changes to the criminal law. The intention of the Act is to frustrate serious (often organised) crime by allowing the police to act without the necessity to bring criminal proceedings. The Home Office sought to pass the Act to enable the specific targeting of the leaders of known criminal organisations. The central measure introduced by the Act are Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPOs) which are similar to Control Orders which are used to restrict the movements and activities of terrorism suspects.
Part 1 of the Act creates SCPOs. The purpose of the SCPOs is to protect the public by preventing, restricting or disrupting involvement in serious crime. An SCPO can be imposed on an individual upon application to the High Court or the Crown Court upon conviction and breach of a SCPO amounts to a criminal offence. In order to impose the SCPO, the Court must be satisfied that the individual has been involved in a serious crime and that the SCPO is necessary to restrict or disrupt their involvement and protect the public. An SCPO may contain such prohibitions, restrictions, requirements or other terms as the Court considers necessary for the protection of the public.
For orders made in England and Wales, section 2 of the Act provides that a “serious offence” is one which, at the time when the Court is considering the application, is specified or falls within a description specified in Part 1 of Schedule 1 or, alternatively, is one which the Court considered to be sufficiently serious to be treated for the purposes of the application as if it were specified in Part 1 of Schedule 1. The offences listed in Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Act include various offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 such as unlawful production or supply of controlled drugs, specified offences under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 such as the improper importation of goods and specified offences under the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990 such as using a ship for illicit traffic in controlled drugs. Section 2A and section 3 of the Act deal with the definition of serious crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively.
Under section 5 the types of provision which can be made in an SCPO are broad. Section 5 contains examples of the type of provision that may be made by an SCPO but it is not exhaustive. Some examples of the prohibitions, restrictions or requirements which may be made include provisions concerned with the financial, property or business dealings of the individual, the types of agreement to which the individual is party or the provision of goods or services by the individual.
Part 1 of the Act also outlines the general safeguards which are applicable to SCPOs. For instance, an individual subject to an SCPO must be over 18 years old (section 6) and parties have the right to make representations under section 9. Under section 16, an SCPO must state when it will come into force and also when it will cease to have effect.
The Act also amends the law relating to encouraging or assisting crime. Part 2 of the Act is based on the 2006 report of the Law Commission entitled “Inchoate Liability for Assisting and Encouraging Crime.” Under Part 2 of the Act, the common law of offence of incitement is abolished and several new offences including intentionally encouraging or assisting crime (section 44) are created. It is a defence to the offences contained in this part of the Act if the person concerned proves that he knew certain circumstances existed and that it was reasonable for him to act as he did in those circumstances (section 50). The Act also provides an exemption from liability for these offences where the offence encouraged or assisted was created in order to protect a category of people (and the person doing the encouragement or assistance fell into that category).
Parts 3 and 4
Part 3 of the Act deals with other measures to prevent or disrupt serious and other crime. Chapter 1 therein makes provision for the prevention of fraud. Chapter 2 amends the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to, amongst other things, transfer certain powers to the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Chapter 3 of Part 3 extends an existing police power to stop and search for dangerous instruments and offensive weapons without reasonable suspicion. Finally, Part 4 of the Act contains miscellaneous provisions including the procedure for making orders under the Act.
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