Legal system stifles use of plea bargains, claims report

THE FUTURE of plea bargaining in financial fraud cases has been cast into doubt by MPs who slammed its use as “veiled in shadows”.

The Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee's report last week, the Regulation of Financial Services, voiced concerns despite support for plea bargaining from City regulators which want closer “interplay” between civil and criminal actions.

It says: “Plea bargaining… has remained veiled in the shadows and is not a technique which can be fully developed within the current constraints of British legal practice. The lack of influence on the eventualsentence… may actively discourage the use of plea bargaining.”

David Kirk, fraud lawyer and Simons Muirhead & Burton partner, agreed with the report, saying UK plea bargaining was “a classically British muddle”.

The report says it shares the “public concern” over the track record of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Its director George Staple twice gave evidence in relation to its handling of the prosecution and plea bargain of the fraud trial of Roger Levitt, who received 180 hours' community service.

However, the SFO said the committee's evidence was limited and the SFO secured convictions of every principal defendant in the eight trials undertaken so far this year.

The committee attacked City self-regulation, and the Bank of England after the collapse of investment bank Barings. Tim Plews, Clifford Chance banking regulatory partner, said: “I was surprised by how radical the report seems. It takes the debate a long way forward.”