Government "to review UK's ability to tackle white-collar crime", according to reports

Out-Law News | 13 Jun 2014 | 9:50 am | 2 min. read

The UK government is carrying out a review of the effectiveness of the various bodies that investigate bribery and corruption offences, according to press reports.

The Financial Times reported that the newly-established National Crime Agency (NCA) was part of the review along with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), City of London Police, financial regulators and the Metropolitan Police's overseas anti-corruption unit (registration required). The review is being run by a cross-departmental team made up of staff from the Prime Minister's Office, Home Office and Cabinet Office, it said.

Writing on his blog at thebriberyact.com, white collar crime expert Barry Vitou of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the move followed a number of recent financial scandals and high-profile investigations against a backdrop of budget cuts and apparent lack of prosecutions.

"For too long, the UK has not taken the investigation and prosecution of white collar crime seriously with the obvious consequence that white collar criminals don't take the risk of enforcement seriously," he said. "Put another way, the deterrent effect is missing."

"The UK approach to investigating and prosecuting white collar crime has been spotty with limited resources, budgetary cuts and the absence of a joined-up approach. At the same time the SFO, the media's focal point for the work, has been the subject of vicious budget cuts and suffered a variety of high-profile setbacks in recent years. David Green, the Director of the SFO, is doing his best to change that. The SFO needs some good results and quickly," he said.

Recent research by Pinsent Masons found that the number of prosecutions for fraud and other white collar crimes fell dramatically in the last three years, even as the number of such crimes rose. At the same time the budget of the SFO, the agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting the most serious of these cases, had fallen by 40% since the financial crisis from £52 million to £32m.

Earlier this month, Vitou said that new figures published by the Times newspaper suggested that only 0.5% of reports of suspicious activity received by the NCA were taken forward and shared with other agencies. He said that the figures showed how urgently a more joined-up approach between the different agencies was needed. The NCA took over responsibility for national and international serious and organised crime last year.

According to the Financial Times, the new review is being backed by the government's anti-corruption champion Ken Clarke. It will focus on how well the various bodies share information and expertise, and whether "appropriate prosecution" was being brought. Funding arrangements for the various bodies will also be considered as part of the review, as would the potential for introducing new criminal offences of failing to prevent financial crimes other than bribery, it said.

"The one difficulty with enforcing really serious frauds of international significance is that they are hugely expensive and costly to investigate and prosecute," Clarke told the Financial Times.

"We want to be satisfied that we are among the countries with the highest standards in the world because it enforces the reputation of the City of London and the legal system in this country," he said.