Convictions (Fraud)

Oral Answers to Questions — Attorney-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd March 1993.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid 12:00 am, 22nd March 1993

To ask the Attorney-General how many cases have been brought to trial by the Serious Fraud Office since its inception; and how many defendants have been convicted.

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

The Serious Fraud Office has brought 103 cases to trial, involving 221 defendants of whom 139 were convicted.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that that is some comfort? Is it not the case that, by concentrating so heavily on a small number of very well-publicised cases in which defendants have been acquitted, we are receiving a wholly distorted view of the important work of this office?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

My hon. Friend is quite right. The SFO prosecutes cases that previously would not have been prosecuted because they were too complex and unmanageable. It is at the leading edge of criminal jurisprudence. A disproportionate amount of publicity is given to a few isolated acquittals. In the last year, 43 defendants were tried and 29 were convicted. That gives a conviction rate of 67 per cent.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott , Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Is the Minister aware of public dissatisfaction with the work of the Serious Fraud Office, especially in the Guinness trial, when all manner of crooks and spivs were able to walk free? Why should there be one law for rich people who swindle millions of pounds of other people's money and another law for the poor?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

The hon. Lady seems to have lost contact with reality. In the case that she quoted, a number of defendants were convicted. In fact, the argument that we hear about the powers of the Serious Fraud Office is that they should be extended to the fraud investigation group.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that many believe that there are a few very lucky men in this country, and some people would like the Roskill report's recommendations on fraud trials to be brought into operation?

Photo of Mr Derek Spencer Mr Derek Spencer , Brighton, Pavilion

Most of the recommendations of the Roskill commission were brought into effect. One that was not brought into effect was the replacement of trial by jury with trial in some other way. That was a very serious step which the House decided not to take. Most people take the view that we should perfect existing means of trial before considering a trial other than by jury.