Beneficial Ownership of Property – Criminal Confiscation Order Overturned


The registered legal owner of a property is assumed also to be its beneficial owner unless proved otherwise. The Court of Appeal succinctly made that point in overturning a confiscation order made in criminal proceedings.

The case concerned a woman who, when communicating with financial institutions, impersonated her husband’s aunt. She thereby caused the aunt’s investments to be cashed in and the £32,000 proceeds paid into her own bank account. She also arranged for the aunt’s Disability Living Allowance to be paid to her.

After she pleaded guilty to three counts of dishonestly making false representations, she was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment. The sentencing judge also made a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA), requiring her to pay almost £36,000. In doing so, the judge found that she had a 45 per cent beneficial interest in the property where she lived with her husband.

Overturning the order, the Court noted that the husband was the property’s sole legal owner. It was therefore for the Crown to prove that she held a beneficial interest in it. The judge was led into the error of considering how the value of the property might be divided in the event of the couple’s divorce. That was an irrelevant consideration which diverted the judge’s focus away from the provisions of the POCA.

In the light of the passage of time and the relatively modest sum involved, the Crown conceded that the matter should not be remitted for redetermination and that the confiscation order should simply be quashed. Given that the woman was suffering from a terminal illness and was incapacitated, that concession was, the Court found, sensibly and reasonably made.

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