Wealth orders under scrutiny as enforcement agencies gain new powers.

Criminal lawyers have warned that new powers given to enforcement agencies to tackle suspected corruption could threaten a cherished principle of English law by inverting the burden of proof.

 Unexplained wealth orders came under the spotlight last week when the wife of an imprisoned banker failed with an attempt to throw out an order requiring her to explain how she came to acquire properties worth £22m. The orders allow enforcement agencies to challenge owners of assets worth more than £50,000 to explain how they afforded those assets.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) alleges that the subject of the order, identified as Mrs A, spent cash that her husband embezzled when he was employed by a state bank in their unnamed home country.

Ben Rose, partner at criminal and human rights firm Hickman & Rose, warned: ‘English law has for centuries relied on the principle that an accuser has to prove guilt. Unexplained wealth orders mean the accused now has to prove their innocence. If this principle were to be applied to ordinary people, in other areas of law, there would be outcry.’

Donald Toon, the NCA’s director for economic crime, said the agency is determinedto use the powers available to their fullest extent.