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Account Freezing Orders: What to Expect
Account freezing orders (AFOs) are an increasingly common mechanism being used by investigative authorities to target cash held in bank accounts or building societies.
Accounts are targeted when it is believed the money is recoverable property or intended for use in unlawful conduct. If you have had your funds frozen suddenly as a result of an account freezing order, you should immediately instruct a specialist solicitor.
By preventing you or your business from having access to frozen funds, this can cause huge personal disruption, may impact on your ability to continue with your business and could cause further problems with settling liabilities that are due.
Below, the Business Crime and Regulation team at JMW Solicitors outline what you can expect if you are the subject of this draconian application or order and what can be done to help minimise disruption
Understand the Investigative Process
Account freezing orders are one of many methods used as part of the investigative process. If you are the subject of an investigation for alleged offence(s), it means that you are the focus of an information-gathering exercise to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to support an allegation.
This means that there is an ongoing investigation taking place. Any senior enforcement officer is able to apply to a Magistrates Court for an account freezing order, if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the funds in that account have been obtained by unlawful conduct or are intended to be used for criminal activity.
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (as amended by the Criminal Finance Act 2017) allows for bank and building society accounts to be frozen for up to two years, while an investigation takes place and the minimum balance in the account is £1,000. While accounts can be frozen for a set period of time, there is no guarantee that your funds will be returned, once this period is over.
Seek Expert Legal Advice
These proceedings are quasi-criminal therefore are governed by complex rules and legislation. Therefore, it is important to instruct an experienced defence solicitor with a proven track record of successfully; resisting applications for an account freezing order; applying for discharge or removal of the account freezing order or resisting a forfeiture application in relation to the frozen funds.
The nature of this investigative measure means that the subject of the investigation must be able to account for and explain what is legally theirs, and working with an experienced legal team is the only way to effectively challenge the actions of the investigating authority.
Once instructed, your solicitor can assist with the preparation of financial information to show provenance and intended use of the funds. They can also manage any direct communication with the investigative body, respond to any further requests for information, obtain further evidence to help support your case, and explain how your supporting evidence should be presented to the Court.
Apply to Release Funds
Without access to personal funds, freezing orders can leave individuals unable to access their own money to cover living costs.
An application can be made to release a proportion of the frozen funds to ensure that a business or household can keep running.
The Court may also grant an exclusion to the order which would allow a person to meet reasonable legal expenses from the frozen funds.
This process will require full information and evidence to support the application and justification as to why the money should be released.
An experienced legal team will help you navigate the process to ensure it has the strongest possible chance of being successful.
Challenge the Order
Investigative authorities can be highly opportunistic, responding to intelligence received or specifically targeting you when applying for account freezing orders. This means there can sometimes be little or no evidence to support the suggestion that funds are the product of criminal activity.
As a result of how easily account freezing orders can be obtained, it is important to check whether the investigating authority has breached any criminal procedures rules, has failed to meet the statutory requirements for such an order to be granted, or have not been full and frank with the Court in relation to their knowledge. If it can be shown that an investigating body has failed to comply with the above, it can result in an account freezing order being lifted.
If an account freezing order cannot be lifted at an early stage, it is possible to question the progress of the investigation and challenge how diligently the investigative body has been. This sustained pressure and call for accountability on behalf of the investigative body remains an effective tool in challenging account freezing orders and helping an individual regain control of their funds.
How Can We Help?
If you have had your funds frozen as the result of an account freezing order, get in touch with the expert team at JMW today.
An initial free telephone consultation can be provided, following which we can discuss the likely costs that will be incurred in relation to your case. For more information, call the team on 0800 652 5559 or complete our online enquiry form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.