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Serious Fraud Office

11th March 2010

Jonathan Djanogly raises concerns about the increasing use of plea bargaining by the SFO and also the overlap with other counter-fraud organisations.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Fraud is now costing the United Kingdom about £30 billion a year compared with an estimated £13 billion only three years ago. It seems that the SFO is increasingly using plea bargaining as a tactic to move its cases along. Does the Solicitor-General accept that our current statutory framework is in need of reform to accommodate that?

The Solicitor-General: I am not quite sure where the hon. Gentleman thinks that the statutory framework needs to be amended to cope with plea bargaining. A new framework set up by the Law Officers has been accepted and taken forward by the SFO, and is currently very much in play. I do not think that he should take the view that fraud increased from £13 billion to £30 billion between the two assessments, because they were done on wholly different bases-the second one postdated the setting up of the National Fraud Authority, which has done a far more thorough job because it has had the resources to do so.

Fraud is a real problem in this country today. Plea bargaining has a role to play in the quick dispatch of cases, but it always has to be made clear that people who commit fraud will be punished severely by the courts and will not be able to buy their way out of trouble.

Mr. Djanogly: We are actually receiving independent reports that the framework is not fit for purpose. What assurances can the Solicitor-General provide that the SFO is developing its flexible case criteria to minimise growing concern about overlap with other counter-fraud organisations, and has she considered a unified agency?

The Solicitor-General: I am not sure what input the hon. Gentleman is getting, but I would be pleased if he could forward to me the comments that he says back up his question. It does not seem to me that the plea bargaining structures, which is the point he started with, impinge very strongly on any statutory framework, but, as I said, I would be pleased to hear. The various agencies tackling fraud-the SFO, the CPS fraud section and the NFA-work together very closely, and where there is evidence of potential or historical overlap, they work consistently and as quickly as they can to remove it and ensure a streamlined approach.

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