Deferred Prosecution Agreements - a lost opportunity?

6 September 2012

There is speculation that the anticipated introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) may not now take place following changes made in the Government reshuffle. It will be an opportunity missed if the proposals are shelved or abandoned altogether, not to mention a possible loss of face given the time and energy in promoting these changes by the Law Officers’ Department.

Investigations and trials are expensive at a time when law enforcers are themselves having to substantially reduce budgets; the SFO’s, for example, has been slashed by over a third in the last four years. DPAs would be a pragmatic way of bringing the dishonest to account without costly, time-consuming and protracted criminal litigation. A consultation by the Ministry of Justice has just finished and legislation was being drafted for their introduction, probably in the autumn.

That’s not to suggest that even if the government goes ahead with DPAs it would be plain sailing. It would undoubtedly be attractive to prosecutors and defendants for a substantial financial penalty and implementation of agreed reforms rather than a lengthy court case and conviction; however the public may still believe that those who commit a crime should face a trial and await the outcome. The judiciary will also have to be won over: and what will be the position of individuals, left to face a trial when no such “deal” is available? The detail to make them workable still needs to be fully resolved.

Latest figures suggest fraud and corruption costs the economy over £30bn a year. If the plans are now scrapped many will see this as a lost opportunity of potential massive cost savings and also the loss of a valuable tool in the armoury of prosecutors in fighting fraud.

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