HC Deb 19 March 1998 vol 308 cc1408-10
27. Mr. Lock

What representations he has received on the use of juries in fraud trials. [33786]

The Attorney-General

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched a consultation exercise seeking views on whether an alternative method of trial should be available in serious and complex fraud cases and on the viability of various options for change. I have not received any representations following the launch of the consultation exercise.

Mr. Lock

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Does he share my surprise that those who present fraud trials in an extended and lucrative way have taken no steps to preserve the current system? Does he also agree that Britain's reputation as a place for international financial business depends on effective and thorough mechanisms to combat fraud? What further steps do the Government propose to take to combat financial fraud?

The Attorney-General

In his consultation exercise, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining the effectiveness of current trial management procedures. Moreover, the Government intend to widen the gateways to allow for the flow of information between all relevant agencies in the fight against fraud. We are also considering a system of civil fines for behaviour that, although not criminal, nevertheless tarnishes the market's reputation. The Government also recognise that an effective system of regulation is necessary to complement the criminal justice system, so a new single financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, has been set up to help secure the United Kingdom's place as a fair, safe and clean place in which to do financial services business.

Mr. Burnett

Does the Attorney-General agree that juries should set and decide on standards for honesty in fraud as well as other trials?

The Attorney-General

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out various options. The Government recognise that there are concerns that the current system for handling some major, complex fraud trials is not working satisfactorily and that there may be a case for considering some change to the system, but we have not yet reached a conclusion on whether the ending of jury trials in serious fraud cases is desirable in principle. Moreover, we have not yet formed an opinion on any particular option for change and will not do so until the consultation procedure is complete.

Mr. Blunt

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of any fundamental objection to a system of specialist jurors with financial qualifications, and who have time available to sit, as the solution to that problem?

The Attorney-General

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to read the Home Secretary's White Paper and look at the options there canvassed. As I said in my first answer, I have not received any representations. That is one of the suggestions that could be canvassed; I invite the hon. Gentleman to make his representations to the Home Secretary.