By Joel Bennathan QC
When is a time limit not a time limit?
Darroch v AG of Isle of Man  UKPC 31
In Darroch v AG of Isle of Man  UKPC 31 the Privy Council have affirmed the need to abide by statutory time limits. The decision is a welcome response to the “anything goes” attitude that seems to have infected numerous prosecuting authorities after the House of Lords decision in Soneji.
Mr Darroch was convicted of various counts of fraud. The judge later set a confiscation time table and passed sentence. There was then an exchange between the prosecuting advocate and judge in which the former said he would not be seeking costs. Some weeks later the prosecution notified the court they had changed their mind. Many months later the judge passed a large confiscation order then adjourned for a later hearing about costs. Yet more months on he imposed a costs order of £175 000. In an appeal on the Isle of Man the local appeal court overturned that order, relying on the prosecution’s earlier stance. The Manx Attorney General then appealed to the Privy Council.
In argument at the Privy Council Mr Darroch’s advocates raised a new issue; the Manx legislation, like POCA, sets a time limit to avoid an overly long delay between making a confiscation order and a later order that the convicted person should also pay costs. In Constantine  I WLR 1086 the [English]Court of Appeal found the POCA equivalent time limit to be one whose breach would not render the costs order unlawful; in this case the Attorney General sought to rely on Constantine and the House of Lord’s decision in Soneji  1 AC 340, to the effect that the breach of a confiscation time limit would not render the subsequent order null and void. The Privy Council has now held that Constantine was wrongly decided and the violation of a time limit before a costs order is fatal.
The wider implications would seem to be that in any case apart from a confiscation under POCA or equivalent legislation, missing a deadline may now be held as depriving the Court of the power to make any order at all.
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