A system of formalised plea bargaining should be considered for the pre-trial stage of fraud cases, but must not put defendants under undue or inappropriate pressure to plead guilty, solicitors have warned.

In a generally positive response to the government?s fraud review, the Law Society?s criminal law committee said that linking any proposed scheme of plea bargaining to an increase in the sentencing for fraud offences ? which the review has proposed ? ?might well lead to potential for unfairness in the plea- bargaining process?.

It argued that the high percentage of plea bargains in the US was not necessarily a sign that the criminal justice system was operating in order to produce fair outcomes.

The committee welcomed the review?s recognition that the present arrangements to tackle fraud are inadequate, along with plans for a national fraud strategy and an authority to co-ordinate it.

There was also support for a financial court, which would combine the High Court?s existing powers to issue freezing and other orders with the ability to impose criminal sanctions, and a ?national judicial co-ordinating mechanism? for serious fraud cases, including the specialist training of a panel of ticketed judges.

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