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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 13:00 GMT
Reform planned for fraud trials
Court graphic
Prosecutors could find it easier to get a fraud case heard without a jury
Many complex fraud trials could soon be tried without a jury, with the government introducing such a bill for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Announced in the Queen's Speech, the bill would let prosecutors choose such a trial if it is approved by a High Court judge and the Lord Chief Justice.

Juries often struggle to deal with the complex evidence in fraud cases.

This can lead to the collapse of the trials, which are very expensive to run.

Between 2002 and 2005 there were 26 fraud trials that each lasted for more than six months.

New offence

Eight fraud trials lasted for more than a year.

The Home Office said that in the financial year 2003/04 the average cost of legal aid for the 20 most expensive trials prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office was 540,000.

TYPES OF FRAUD
Phishing: The use of emails which guide unsuspecting users to fake banking websites to steal their login details
Long firm fraud: Setting up companies to trade legitimately, then disappear with the gains from one last, big deal
Lottery scam: Using letters or emails to convince someone that they have won a foreign lottery - and then charging them thousands in "taxes" and fees
Boiler rooms: cold-calling people to talk them into buying worthless shares at inflated prices

The Fraud Act coming into force next year will create a specific criminal offence of fraud - whether by false representation, abuse of position or failing to disclose information.

For example, a boiler-room scam trying to offload penny shares on unsuspecting investors by means of a bogus prospectus or website would be committing a fraud of misrepresentation, regardless of whether any money actually changed hands.

A bank employee seeking to bend a deal in the direction of associates would commit fraud by abuse of position, while a solicitor or estate agent giving bad advice on a land deal in which a friend had a competing interest would commit a fraud by failing to disclose information.

The trial without jury bill follows on from the Fraud Review that the government unveiled last July.

Among the measures it called for was a national fraud reporting centre, which would make it easier to track and gather evidence on fraudsters across the boundaries of the 43 police forces in England and Wales.


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