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Deferred Prosecution Agreements

Volume 553: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2012

2. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements on the level of economic crime. (128879)

It is not possible to quantify exactly what the effect of the new deferred prosecution agreements will be on the amount of economic crime, but we do believe that they will contribute to the welcome trend of an increase in self-reporting by organisations. That will enable the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service to obtain better evidence so that prosecutors will be able to bring more cases and restitution will be obtained, and this could lead to a reduction in the amount of economic crime.

What steps will the Minister take if the proportion of cases resolved by the CPS creeps higher than the Government have forecast in the impact assessment? Does he agree that a sunset clause of five years would be a sensible safeguard?

It is certainly important to recognise that this is not an alternative to prosecuting in serious cases, and the SFO and the CPS are very anxious to ensure that that is the case. It is particularly important that individuals should not feel that they have any way out of their liabilities, but this relates purely to organisations. A sunset clause is not contemplated at present, but the hon. Lady has put the idea forward and of course I will look at it. I thank her for making that important contribution.

But all too often directors of companies are, in effect, complicit in what has been going on when economic crime is involved in their organisation. They want to protect the company rather than self-declare. Indeed, this surely must lead the Crown Prosecution Service to take very seriously the idea, when directors are negligent, of bringing prosecutions under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 or the Data Protection Act against the body corporate—for instance, News International.

I clearly cannot comment on a particular case, but the hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is important that this should be about self-reporting by companies. That does not let individuals off the hook, but it means that the business and jobs can continue and that these business entities have certainty, while ensuring that they are on tough conditions. The whole point of this is that a company should pay a penalty and be on tough conditions that will be monitored by a judge, to ensure that it cleans up its act and provides all the information necessary to the prosecution authorities.