Forfeiting proceeds: Civil forfeiture, the right to property and the Constitution

Author: Michael Rhimes

ISSN: 1996-2177
Affiliations: LLB (Hons) (Queen Mary) BCL (Oxon)
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 138 Issue 2, p. 325-368


Civil forfeiture powers are a useful tool in the fight against crime — particularly the organised kind. They deter such crime by removing the proceeds from wrongdoers, thereby diminishing the incentives for offending. However, as the courts in South Africa have long recognised, the forfeiture powers must be calibrated to ensure a fair balance between the public interest in crime deterrence and private interests such as the right to property. Achieving this balance when forfeiting proceeds is a vexed question which this article seeks to explore. It argues that while the forfeiture of proceeds will usually be justified by the legitimate aim of crime deterrence, forfeiture should nevertheless be subject to a proportionality check. This check is arguably required by the property clause in s 25(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, and is justified by the need to constrain the breadth of the powers under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. It then explores what situations might justify refusing forfeiture of proceeds, and how the proportionality check should be applied.