Fraud proposals get mixed reception

Top City crime lawyers have attacked a Law Commission proposal to remove the need to prove dishonesty in deception cases.

As predicted in The Lawyer (5 April), the commission's consultation paper proposes sweeping changes to the fraud laws in the light of new technology

Although most proposals are welcomed – particularly those suggesting a tightening of the law on credit card fraud – opinion is split over the commission's failure to recommend a general offence of fraud.

Simons Muirhead & Burton's corporate crime partner, Brian Spiro says: “This was an ideal opportunity to clarify and simplify the law by introducing a new offence of fraud. It seems ludicrous that we have a serious fraud office in a jurisdiction where there is no offence of fraud.”

But Stephenson Harwood's head of investigation and regulation, Tony Woodcock, says: “The commission says it would be too uncertain an offence, which is right, and could potentially be in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

However, the lawyers are united in denouncing proposals to scrap the need to show dishonesty in deception cases.

Russell Jones & Walker's head of criminal, Rod Fletcher, says: “What is being proposed is actually going to undermine the presumption of innocence.”

On a more positive note, Burton Copeland's crime partner Mark Haslam says: “We welcome any simplification and clarification [of fraud law] as this will help to ensure that cases will remain within the ambit of juries which we regard as vital.”

Peters & Peters business crime partner Peter Binning says he welcomes proposals to extend the offence of obtaining by deception to counter problems caused by electronic trading but also calls for the Government to implement Part 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 to close the jurisdictional loopholes in this area.