Civil asset forfeiture proposal to go to Barbados cabinet soon

By Julia Rawlins-Bentham

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Barbados’s ability to seize ill-gotten gains from criminal activity through civil procedures will soon go before Cabinet for consideration.

This was disclosed by attorney general and minister of home affairs, Adriel Brathwaite, who said that, over the last two years, Barbados has been working with the American embassy to champion the effectiveness of a civil asset recovery regime.

Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite
Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs, Adriel Brathwaite

He made these comments during a media interview before the start of a civil asset recovery one-day workshop in Christ Church.

“It is my hope that within the next week we can take the proposal to Cabinet. This workshop culminates almost two years of discussions,” Brathwaite said.

He explained that although Barbados had a Proceeds of Crime Act, the proposed civil asset recovery regime was based on civil procedure and would prove to be faster and more effective.

The attorney general stated that it also offered lawmakers an alternative to the criminal procedure, which first required that someone be charged and taken through the criminal process, before their assets could be seized.

“With the civil procedure, within the proposed legislation, where someone’s wealth is inconsistent with their means, and there is reasonable grounds to suspect the wealth is from proceeds of crime, the civil procedure allows us quicker access to those assets,” he said.

Brathwaite added that there was a proposal that assets seized from such ill-gotten gains be used to address issues of substance abuse and to support the work of the police force. However, he noted that under the present system in Barbados such funds went back into the Treasury.

The attorney general also told members of the media that there were concerns over the constitutionality of civil forfeiture, and stressed that it was important to ensure the right legislative framework was in place.

Brathwaite explained that the Barbados constitution provided for the rights of property and against the deprivation of property.

“That is why we must ensure that any legislation we put in place that deprives one of their property takes into [account the fact] that there is a constitutional provision.

“That is why we have to get it right. The workshop will ensure that within a Barbados context we don’t enact legislation that the first time it is challenged will be found to be unconstitutional,” he stated.

American ambassador, Larry Palmer, stressed that the workshop was very important as civil asset forfeiture had proven to be successful in the United States and throughout Europe to deter transnational criminal organisations.

“Oftentimes criminal bosses distance themselves so much from the crime itself, it is really difficult to prosecute them. Through civil asset forfeiture we have a way to go after just what it is that they want – the money and the ill-gotten gains.

“If we can sometimes get the gains, what this does is provide a valuable source of income for our governments to finance their police and crime fighting operations and have money for social programmes, in terms of working with youth at risk. This is a great concept and it has proven successful throughout the world. I am pleased to bring this to the region,” he said.

During the workshop, the top legal minds from Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean looked at ways to implement civil asset forfeiture in the Caribbean in ways that were compliant with the legal structures and norms.

Dominica was first in the Eastern Caribbean to have legislation that deals with civil asset recovery, with a dedicated forfeiture fund to support law enforcement, victim restitution and substance abuse treatment.

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