Fear over international crime plans

The Government's plan to give domestic courts greater powers to deal with international fraud has received a mixed response from City crime lawyers.

The new powers in Part 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 – effective from 1 June – allow some offences to be tried in England and Wales if any act, omission or any other element of a crime takes effect here.

Under current law, courts have jurisdiction only when the offence, or the last act necessary for its completion, occurs here.

Harry Travers, a partner at Burton Copeland, warns that the new powers may lead to injustice because of the evident “lack of equality of arms” between the defence and the prosecution.

He says: “The prosecution can gather evidence from abroad with relative ease using the provisions of mutual assistance and the considerable resources of the State, but the defence has no such resources at its disposal.

“In passing this Act, insufficient account has been given to the practical unfairness that people accused of crimes with an international element will face when trying to defend themselves.”

He called for courts to stay proceedings as an abuse of process where courts in another jurisdiction would provide a fairer forum. Otherwise, he says the right to a fair trial, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, could be breached.