Civil liberties groups have criticised a law passed by the Australian government that will enable police to seize the assets of suspected criminals even if they have not been convicted of an offence. The legislation, passed by parliament late on Monday night, means criminal suspects will have to prove their assets were derived lawfully or risk having them seized by authorities. Justice Minister Chris Ellison explained that the Proceeds of Crime Bill was designed to crack down on the 'Mr Bigs' of organised crime, including drug traffickers, money launderers and people smugglers. 'This is a significant step in the continued fight against organised and serious crime,' Mr Ellison said. 'Enabling the forfeiture of a suspect's assets without needing a conviction strengthens the ability of law-enforcement agencies to target the Mr Bigs who seek to distance themselves from their criminal operations but not from the profits. 'A strong forfeiture regime attacks the profits of crimes already committed and prevents those funds being used to commit further serious offences.' He said the legislation would also allow police to confiscate property belonging to suspected terrorists. The law, which will come into effect early next year, will allow courts to freeze and confiscate assets where the Director of Public Prosecutions can prove on the 'balance of probabilities' that a person has engaged in serious criminal activity in the previous six years. It will not be necessary to obtain a conviction. Previously, courts could not seize assets without proving the suspect had committed a crime and had profited financially from doing so. However, the new legislation came in for heavy criticism yesterday from the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. The council's president, Terry O'Gorman, said: 'It turns the presumption of innocence on its head and will abolish a suspect's right to silence. It throws the onus of proof on to the individual. It is objectionable because it uses civil seizure as a way of getting at people through the back door.' He added that the law was based on similar legislation in the United States, where there were concerns that the seizure of alleged criminal assets caused unfair suffering to suspects' families. The new law is also designed to target criminals who trade on their notoriety by writing memoirs and books based on their experiences. It will force them to forfeit any profits from their literary endeavours, or from selling their stories to the media. In June there was an outcry over the publication of a children's book by convicted criminal Mark 'Chopper' Read. He also achieved fame through the biographical movie Chopper. Mr Ellison said: 'There is no reason why [criminals] should profit out of that and that's why we have included it.' But Mr O'Gorman said: 'I think the principle of freedom of speech should override any objections. They have done their time. In any case, it is not very common for criminals to write autobiographies.'