Law Reform

Government moves to adopt deferred prosecutions

PUBLISHED May 17, 2012

Thursday 17 May 2012 by Michael Cross

Long-expected plans to enable US-style deferred prosecutions for white-collar crimes take a step forward with the publication of a Ministry of Justice consultation today.

Under a deferred prosecution the authorities and a malefactor business can agree a penalty to be imposed if the business does not comply with 'good behaviour' measures over a set period of time. The previous director of the Serious Fraud Office, Richard Alderman, had called for their adoption to curb corporate crime in the UK.

The new consultation, was developed jointly by the MoJ and the Law Officers' departments. In a statement to parliament today, the junior justice minister, Crispin Blunt, said: 'We need to develop new tools for prosecutors to use alongside existing methods, to give them the flexibility to secure appropriate penalties for wrongdoing, at the same time as achieving better outcomes for victims.'

He said that deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) 'would contribute to a just outcome, securing appropriate penalties for and the surrendering of the proceeds of wrongdoing, and benefits for victims in a way that is sanctioned by a judge, without the uncertainty, expense, complexity or time of a full criminal trial'. He pledged that the process will be transparent: 'as DPAs will be public, the public will always know what wrongdoing has taken place, and the penalty that has been paid'. However the proposals are likely to attract criticism for undercutting the role of the judiciary.

Barry Vitou, partner at national firm Pinsent Masons, commended the move. 'The UK prosecutors toolkit is in serious need of the deferred prosecution agreement regime. The present system encourages enforcement arbitrage with companies preferring to enter into deferred prosecution agreements in the United States to avoid the UK enforcement process. This makes no sense. The launching of the formal government consultation today is a welcome step.'

The consultation closes on 9 August.