Law Commission calls for new fraud law

The complex laws on fraud face a radical overhaul following a report due to be announced later this month.

The Law Commission will issue a consultation paper making proposals to simplify one of the most difficult areas of the legal system.

The consultation follows on from complaints by the Lord Chancellor that fraud is “difficult to prosecute effectively”.

Stephen Silber QC, the Law Commissioner, who will publish the consultation paper on 27 April, says: “What we are going to be looking at is whether or not the law is up to date in the light of developing technology.

“The Lord Chancellor has been very critical about the [current] law.

“We are coming out with a whole series of proposals, [such as] whether there should be a general offence of dishonesty and a general offence of deception.”

Criminal solicitors are worried that any changes may lead to a reduction in the role of juries in complex cases.

Graham Brodie, a specialist fraud barrister at 1 Dr Johnson's Buildings, says: “There is currently a fairly broad offence of conspiracy to defraud.

“It is important that the law should not change so that it should be unclear what it is that individuals are prohibited from doing – even if it is difficult to prove offences.

“We should not create a general criminal offence of being up to no good.”

Harry Travers, partner at Burton Copeland, says: “It is one thing to say we need a new offence of fraud and quite another to define it.

“I hope the Law Commission will come up with something which will work in practice, bearing in mind the necessity for the law to be certain and clear.

“It is also of paramount importance that the commission should not recommend a change in the law which would have the effect of emasculating the function of the jury in fraud trials.”