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Unexplained Wealth Laws in Australia

NCJ Number
Lorana Bartels
Date Published
July 2010
6 pages
This paper examines the scope and impact of unexplained-wealth laws in Australia and analyzes the arguments for and against such legislation.
The power of the State to confiscate assets derived from criminal acts is well-accepted in criminal justice proceedings and each Australian jurisdiction has laws that govern such confiscation of crime proceeds; however, some Australian jurisdictions have gone further in enacting unexplained-wealth laws. Such laws place the burden of proof on the individual whose wealth is in dispute to show that the wealth was acquired by legal means. Existing unexplained-wealth laws are reviewed for Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland, and pending legislation is examined for South Australia and New South Wales. Arguments for such laws are that they deter those who consider criminal activity for financial gain, prevent crime by diminishing the capacity of offenders to finance any future criminal activity, and remedy the unjust enrichment of criminals. The principal argument against unexplained-wealth laws is that the reversal of the burden of proof creates the risk of confiscating assets from innocent people because of the breadth of such laws. This paper recommends that future research include a critical and empirical analysis of comparable international legislation and its relevance to the Australian context. 1 table and 15 references