Customs stripped of prosecution powers

Customs & Excise has lost its prosecuting powers following several high profile blunders that have cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.

The Attorney General and the Treasury have replaced the public prosecution arm of Customs with a new independent body due to start at the end of 2004.

A key report by High Court judge Mr Justice Butterfield in July recommended that such a body be established in the wake of technical errors committed by Customs. These errors, which included incitement to commit offences, led to the withdrawal of claims against a large number of defendants.

The new independent body, the Customs and Excise Prosecution Office (CEPO), will be accountable to the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

Goldsmith said: “Mr Justice Butterfield said that whilst there has been a significant improvement in the prosecutions office, there is more to be done if Customs & Excise prosecutions are to regain their reputation for excellence. Rebuilding that reputation through concrete improvements to the prosecution process is the key challenge for CEPO in the coming years.”