Explain yourself: the Court of Appeal rejects the challenge to the first UWO

06 February 2020

The Court of Appeal has dismissed the appeal against the first Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) issued in the UK, potentially paving the way for much greater use of the relatively new power.

We commented on the hearing in December and noted that the case would provide a valuable precedent and useful guidance for future use of the power. This seems to be the case. In his judgment rejecting the appeal, Lord Justice Burnett, the Lord Chief Justice, set out that the subject of the UWO had been lawfully targeted and gave various reasons as to why the legal tests to obtain a UWO had been met. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was also denied and an order made for the subject to pay the legal costs of the National Crime Agency (NCA). This result will no doubt be seen as a significant victory for the NCA and act as a much-cited test case.

The subject of the UWO now has seven days to comply with the original order and provide the NCA with full details of the sources of her wealth. Failure to do so may result in the properties that were the target of the UWO being seized by the UK authorities. 

There are more high-profile UWO cases due to be heard in the near future, and it remains to be seen whether the NCA will maintain its current 100% success rate, but commentators are already speculating as to how big the impact of this ruling will be and how much more UWO-based enforcement the UK authorities might now be considering.

Sarah Pritchard, of the NCA's National Economic Crime Centre, said it was a "significant result". "As a new piece of legislation we anticipated that there would be legal challenge," she said. "We are pleased that the court has upheld the case today. It will set a helpful precedent for future UWO cases."

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