Economic crime has increased in recent years, in part because of the pandemic and the widescale move to remote working (and the consequent vulnerabilities to online and cyber frauds).
Fraudulent exploitation of aid schemes from the government have also fed in to this increase.
In response, the CPS has now launched a new five-year strategy aimed at increasing the resources for tackling this problem.
Key objectives of this strategy include:
- Increased training and support for legal staff and prosecutors;
- A renewed focus on digital capabilities: including more virtual hearings and the use of AI in disclosure. It is hoped that this will reduce the backlog in cases;
- Partnering strategically with other national and international bodies to deliver a "whole system response" to economic crime;
- Ensuring the right structures and resources are in place to maintain casework quality and improve asset recovery;
- Focussing on the needs of victims and witnesses and communicating effectively with the public.
- Supporting the creation of the first ever Economic Crime court. Currently cases are heard as part of the financial list in the criminal courts of England and Wales.
In launching this strategy, there is a recognition that economic crime is not a victimless crime. It is believed to have cost consumers almost £480 million in 2020 and it is estimated that some 800,000 people fall victim to it every year. The strategy recognises that an increase in resources is needed to tackle the problem.
Max Hill QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has said: “The impact of economic crime on victims can be devastating, ranging from vulnerable people being exploited and left with unaffordable personal losses to the negative impact on the viability of businesses, all of which leads to significant losses to taxpayers.
“This is a serious and growing area of criminality, which is why we have developed a focused plan to help combat it, providing more resources for specialist economic crime prosecutors, working closer with the police to build strong cases from the outset and giving victims confidence to come forward."
Osborne Clarke comment
While this initiative is likely to point to more effective and robust enforcement of economic crime, the strategy is light on detail. It will remain to be seen what concrete changes will be implemented as a result of these ambitions, and in particular what additional resources will be made available to law enforcement agencies and the courts.