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Fraud

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

12. What steps the Serious Fraud Office is taking to increase its effectiveness in prosecuting fraudsters. (280583)

Since Mr. Alderman became the director of the SFO, he has overseen a comprehensive transformation of that body. It has a new structure, a new focus, a new approach to work and improved processes, which have already produced a number of improvements in prosecutions. We are confident that there will be more to follow as the changes bed in.

I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer. Will she tell us a little more about what the Serious Fraud Office is doing for the victims of fraud and about how those people are receiving justice? Following on from the previous question, will she also say briefly whether she believes it has enough resources?

The SFO has a high regard for the importance of looking after witnesses in fraud cases. Indeed, I have taken a personal interest in this. The Crown Prosecution Service does a good deal in this regard now, and its performance rate on the dropping of cases at the door of the court because of the non-appearance of witnesses, and so on, has got much better because of the attention it pays to victims and witnesses. The SFO deals with a completely different kind of case, of course, but it none the less well understands the need to ensure that witnesses and victims are supported. I have met two small business men who were the victims of fraud and who felt that, when their cases came to court two years ago, they were not treated as well as they could have been. We have learned lessons from that, as well. I do not think that the resources question that my hon. Friend has raised will take away from the effort that is now going to be put more fully into protecting victims and witnesses.

There seems to be an increasing tendency for fraudsters to pick on vulnerable people. Will my hon. and learned Friend tell us what measures she has in hand to ensure that sentences take into account the fact that a vulnerable person has been picked on, in addition to consideration of the crime itself?

The personal damage that fraud can cause, particularly to vulnerable people, is recognised. Historically, it has perhaps been seen as a crime that attacks victims slightly less than other crime, but being defrauded is very undermining and can sometimes tip people into as poor a state as they would find themselves in if they had been seriously assaulted. We are pursuing the protection of vulnerable victims, and when such vulnerability exists, the Crown will draw it to the attention of the judge. Guidelines on sentencing usually allow for aggravation to follow from the fact that a victim is particularly vulnerable, and that can increase the sentence.