Having worked on both sides of the fence, our team fully understands the importance of engaging with the relevant agency (if appropriate) and challenging any order as appropriate. We regularly give expert legal and practical advice tailored to the commercial needs and context of each individual client.
Account Freezing and Forfeiture Orders
We advise individuals and businesses at every stage, including how to avoid an account freezing order, how to challenge one if one is made, and how to respond to an account forfeiture notice or order if required.
Finally, we are also able to advice individuals and businesses who find that their account(s) have been frozen or closed by their bank.
What are Account Freezing and Forfeiture Orders?
An account freezing order is a mechanism in UK law that allows enforcement agencies to freeze funds where, on the balance of probabilities, there are reasonable grounds to suspect they are the proceeds of crime or are intended for use in unlawful conduct.
The purpose of imposing such an order is to facilitate an investigation into the provenance of the funds and prevent them from being disposed of in the meantime. In some circumstances, law enforcement agencies can make the application without notice.
How concerned should I be about an Account Freezing Order?
The short answer: very.
There is a low threshold for law enforcement agencies to impose an account freezing order. There is no requirement of a prior criminal conviction, which involves a much higher standard of proof. In some cases, an order may be imposed in the absence of a criminal prosecution or even a criminal investigation. All that is required is reasonable suspicion. This could be based on unusual account activity reported by a bank under its anti-money laundering procedures, even when the activity itself is completely lawful.
The imposition of an account freezing order can have far-reaching consequences. An order may be imposed for up to two years and can have devastating commercial implications, both financially and reputationally, even when the eventual outcome is a finding that there was no wrongdoing.
What is an Account Forfeiture Order?
After a law enforcement agency has completed its investigations, it may apply for some or all the funds to be forfeited. It may do this by issuing an account forfeiture notice, where it believes forfeiture is likely to be contested, or by applying for an account forfeiture order.
What happens next?
Such an application must be made on notice to the affected party and will be heard in the magistrates’ court. Before it grants the order, the magistrates’ court must be satisfied that the funds are the proceeds of crime or are intended for use in unlawful conduct. Although these resemble criminal proceedings, there is no prerequisite that a criminal conviction has been secured, and the standard of proof is the balance of probabilities.
At this stage, it is highly recommended to have legal representation.
If you are concerned by any of the above, or for more information about us and our Criminal Litigation, Investigations and Regulatory services, please contact a member of the team who will be able to assist.