Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Rush to Judgment - Why Attorney-General Had to Water Down Fraud-Busting Plan

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Don't Rush to Judgment - Why Attorney-General Had to Water Down Fraud-Busting Plan

Article excerpt


THE Government has been forced to abandon one of the more extreme fraud-busting measures it had been hoping to announce. Baroness Scotland, the Attorney General, wants to introduce legislation that will allow judges to stop convicted fraudsters working as solicitors, estate agents or in financial services. Courts would also be able to wind up companies that had been used to commit fraud.

Professionals convicted of fraud are already at risk of being banned by their regulators. But the Government's view is that these procedures involve unnecessary delay and duplication. What's proposed is that the Crown Court could strike off an offender as soon as he is convicted.

Why stop there? Under plans put forward by Lady Scotland last year, courts would have been able to deprive professionals of their livelihoods as soon as an investigation was launched and even if the defendant was found not guilty.

This aspect was greeted with predictable outrage, not least by the judges. "The strength and breadth of the opposing views was striking," the Government admitted last week.

Many of those who responded to the Government's consultation paper "expressed fundamental concerns about the propriety of the Crown Court imposing sanctions on a person who had to be ' Baroness insisted not a genuine and it concerns were viewed as innocent, either because the charges against him had not yet been determined or because he had been found not guilty by the jury".

So the Government is no longer seeking to strike off defendants "as an interim measure pending determination of the criminal charge, and in the event of an acquittal as well as a conviction".

Lady Scotland insisted that this was not a defeat. "It was a genuine consultation," she told me, "and it seemed to us that the concerns people had were valid." She also thought it would be easier to find a Parliamentary slot if the proposals were seen as uncontroversial.

But no legislation will be needed for the Attorney General's new guidelines on plea negotiations, which take effect early in May. These will allow defendants this was " It was a that the had she said'

accused of serious or complex fraud to agree on circumstances in which they would be willing to plead guilty. …

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