In the Media

Longer jail terms proposed for fraud

PUBLISHED July 26, 2006

Jail terms for fraud will rise and courts will have greater powers to offer leniency for guilty pleas under reforms proposed on Monday by a study on reducing financial crime.

The review proposes one-stop courts that bring together civil, criminal and regulatory proceedings to cut the number of costly, lengthy and abortive trials.

The plan would move the UK closer to the US approach to white-collar crime, although Lord Goldsmith, the attorney- general, insisted the US was just one influence among many in the search for needed improvements.

?We have got to be better on tackling fraud,? he said.

The review recommends longer prison terms for the most serious fraud offences ? from 10 to 14 years ? alongside measures to allow plea bargaining.

Lord Goldsmith said the harsher sentences would still be below those applied in the US, mitigating the risk of innocent people pleading guilty because they were afraid of the stiffness of the potential penalties if they did not.

The proposals follow the collapse of high-profile cases. Last year the prosecution of six men over an alleged fraud on the Jubilee line Tube extension was halted after almost two years and tens of millions of pounds in costs.

The CBI employers? group said the recent failures showed the process needed to ?get a lot smarter?.

?The problem is not just the tools, it?s how they?re used,? said John Cridland, deputy director-general,

The review says the authorities must gather better information on the scale of fraud, for which no credible estimates exist. It proposes a national fraud reporting centre, a national lead police force and a public-private partnership to run a national anti-fraud strategic authority.

Lawyers and others have questioned whether the authorities have the resources to deal with the wealth of information they are gathering through their greater focus on financial crime. The number of suspicious activity reports made to law agencies has increased tenfold in five years, leading to concerns that the extra data are not being analysed and used.

Lord Goldsmith said the authors of the report had estimated the proposals would save a ?very significant? amount in the longer term.

He favoured more public-private partnerships such as the police Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit, which is funded by the banking industry and claims to have prevented ?100m of fraud in less than five years of existence.

Monty Raphael, head of the fraud and regulatory department at Peters & Peters, the law firm, said the home secretary should make fraud a policing priority and the Treasury should provide sufficient funds to support this.