Alliance Justice Minister Naomi Long has signalled her intent to commence powers including unexplained wealth orders, account freezing and forfeiture powers for law enforcement agencies, bringing Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK.
In a written statement to the Assembly, the Justice Minister informed MLAs she will be writing to the Home Secretary to advise she wishes to commence the relevant provisions contained within
• the Criminal Finances Act 2017 (‘the CFA 2017’) for Northern Ireland, including new unexplained wealth orders, account freezing and forfeiture provisions and listed assets forfeiture provisions; and
• the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Act 2019 (‘the COPO Act 2019’) which will ensure law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland have the same powers as their counterparts in the rest of the UK to apply for and obtain electronic data from overseas service providers for the purposes of criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Naomi Long said: “When I became Minister, I said I wanted to make a real difference in the two years left of this mandate - and I meant it. One of the areas I said I particularly wanted to address was tackling the harm criminality and paramilitarism causes within our communities. Today marks a further step on the journey towards delivering that goal by ensuring law enforcement agencies have effective legal powers to deal with the threat posed by crime, including serious organised crime.
“The latest estimate available of the social and economic cost of serious organised crime to the UK is in the region of £37 billion. The recent Strategic Assessment of Serious Organised Crime 2020, published by the National Crime Agency in April, assessed the true cost could be significantly higher. Crime knows no borders and the CFA 2017 provisions will enhance our assets recovery regime, allowing us to keep parity with the rest of the UK."
The COPO Act 2019 provisions will create new powers for law enforcement agencies to obtain stored electronic evidence from another country with which there is a designated international cooperation agreement. An agreement between the UK and US is due to be ratified later this year.
The Minister has advised Executive colleagues and the Justice Committee she will now work with the Home Secretary to progress commencement of the relevant provisions of both Acts during 2020.
She said: “The impact of serious organised crime on communities must be addressed. The members of the Organised Crime Task Force (OCTF) work in partnership to respond to the threats posed by organised criminality, using both criminal and civil tools to disrupt the activities of organised crime groups and proactively advising the public about steps that they can take to protect themselves from the harm caused by organised crime and to be vigilant so as not to support organised crime. The commencement of the relevant CFA 2017 powers in Northern Ireland will enhance the range of tools available to OCTF partners.”