Exercise 2D. Reading a statute text

The last three exercises have been concerned with judge-made law. Until the 20th century, judge-made law was the main source of English law. But nowadays, statute law – law that has been laid down by Parliament, or by a body authorised by Parliament to make law – has taken over as the dominant force in English law. This is particularly true in relation to criminal law, or family law, or property law.

This exercise is about reading and applying a statute. The key here is to pay attention to every word. There is saying that ‘You can’t paraphrase a statute’. In other words, you can’t hope to apply a statute accurately if all you have is a general idea about how it applies. That is why even universities that do not allow law students to take their notes and textbooks into an exam with them will allow the students to take a statute book into the exam. It would be impossible to expect students to memorise the exact words of a statute; but that is what they would have to do if they were not allowed to take statute books with them into their exams.

In this exercise, you will be given a couple of provisions from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Read them and then see whether it implies that D has committed an offence in the scenarios set out below. You will be given some tips to help you apply the statute properly to the scenarios.

Section 328 – Arrangements E+W+S+N.I.

(1) A person commits an offence if he enters into or becomes concerned in an arrangement which he knows or suspects facilitates (by whatever means) the acquisition, retention, use or control of criminal property by or on behalf of another person.

Section 340 – Interpretation E+W+S+N.I.

(2) Criminal conduct is conduct which—

(a) constitutes an offence in any part of the United Kingdom, or

(b) would constitute an offence in any part of the United Kingdom if it occurred there.

(3) Property is criminal property if—

(a) it constitutes a person’s benefit from criminal conduct or it represents such a benefit (in whole or part and whether directly or indirectly), and

(b) the alleged offender knows or suspects that it constitutes or represents such a benefit.

(4) It is immaterial—

(a) who carried out the conduct;

(b) who benefited from it;

(c) whether the conduct occurred before or after the passing of this Act.

(5) A person benefits from conduct if he obtains property as a result of or in connection with the conduct.

(9) Property is all property wherever situated and includes—

(a) money;

(b) all forms of property, real or personal, heritable or moveable;

(c) things in action and other intangible or incorporeal property.

In light of these provisions, consider whether D has committed an offence under section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 in the following scenarios:

1. A sells 5 kilos of heroin to B for £100,000 in cash. D, who is A’s accountant and is present at the sale of the heroin to B, takes the cash and pays it into 50 separate bank accounts.

Tip: This is meant to be an easy one, just to get you used to how the provisions apply. D has committed an offence under s 328. Applying the definitions in s 340, can you see why?

2. D runs a car repair shop. A, a well known car thief, brings a car into D’s shop and asks D to repair it for him. D does so.

Tip: Does it make a difference whether the car is actually stolen or not? What would have to be established about D’s state of mind in relation to whether the car is hot or not before he could be found to have committed an offence under s 328?

3. A illegally hacks into his school’s internal computer network and obtains the home addresses of all the school’s teachers. A shows the addresses to D, and D posts them up on his Facebook page.

Tip: The key here is whether D is helping other people acquire, retain, use, or control criminal property by posting this information on Facebook.

4. A and B are due to compete the following day in the National Scrabble Championship Final, where the winner will receive £20,000. The night before the final, A is shot dead by his wife, who has long been unhappy with A’s spending all his time playing Scrabble. D, the organiser of the Championship, announces that, due to A’s death, B is the National Scrabble Champion and awards him the £20,000 prize.

Tip: Watch out for causation issues here. Is B really going to benefit from criminal conduct if he gets the prize? If he does get the prize, is the criminal conduct the reason he is going to get it?

5. A steals a Rembrandt painting belonging to B and contacts B to say that B will not get the painting back unless £100,000 is dropped off at a certain location. D, B’s best friend, drops the money off at the location, and then receives a call to tell him where the painting is. He picks the painting up and returns it to B.

Tip: There are two possible types of ‘criminal property’ here that D might be accused of helping someone else acquire, retain, use or control: the £100,000 (that D helps A to get) and the painting (that D helps B get back). Consider both of them.