Questions to the Attorney General

6th September 2018

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox responds to MPs’ questions in the House of Commons.

Serious Fraud Office

2. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the performance of the Serious Fraud Office. [906697]

Serious fraud losses are estimated at over £190 billion a year. The SFO is an essential component of our national effort against financial crime. It is responsible for some of the largest and most complex cases. In the past five financial years, 25 out of 30 of its prosecutions resulted in convictions, which is a rate of 83%. I thank Sir David Green for his leadership and guidance in the last six years of momentous legislative change. The SFO is an important and central player, and it will remain so with the Government’s commitment. It is a vital part of our national effort against fraud.

The Attorney General knows that I have a keen interest in this area and that I, like many Members on both sides of the House, want to see an effective and efficient Serious Fraud Office. We are still seriously concerned that if the SFO is not resourced well enough, and does not have enough staff and sufficient budget to do the job, it will increasingly become reliant on the big accountancy and legal firms. He knows the problem, so will he meet a few Members from across the parties to talk about this?

I am always willing to have a constructive dialogue with the hon. Gentleman and any Opposition Member, but I must say that I do not recognise the problem. I have inquired into this issue with the SFO and there is no significant commissioning of the big four. We have increased the SFO’s core budget and we are still making available blockbuster funding for large cases. With the new director giving fresh energy and a fresh perspective to the leadership of the SFO, I hope that we shall see an already good performance much improved.

How much of that £190 billion of financial fraud has been successfully prosecuted?

In the past four financial years, £650 million of financial penalties has been recovered by deferred prosecution agreements. Millions of pounds have been recovered. The total cost of the total amounts of fraud that have been prosecuted amounts to hundreds of millions.


Criminal Legal Aid

3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on recent changes to criminal legal aid. [906698]

As the hon. Gentleman will know, legal aid policy does not lie within the ministerial responsibilities of the Attorney General, but I have met the Secretary of State already and will do so regularly to discuss matters of common interest in respect of our departmental responsibilities. As Attorney General, I have a particular interest in the legal professions, and I am concerned to ensure that the professions’ standards remain high and that they are able to attract entrants of the highest calibre. To that end, I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice continues to make provision of £1.6 billion a year in legal aid. It has recently allocated an additional £15 million to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme for Crown court representation. It has published its proposals, and I hope that they will be welcomed by the criminal Bar.

Anyone who cares about the legal aid system will be aware that there are challenges. The Scottish Government have undertaken a review of legal aid to make the system simpler, more flexible and more cost-effective. Will the Attorney General discuss with the Justice Secretary undertaking a similar review and following the recommendations of the Justice Committee report on that?

I am aware of the Scottish Government’s review and will be interested to see the Scottish Government’s response, which I understand is still awaited. We are carrying out our own review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. It is a careful review of the policies and choices made in that legislation. Evidence is currently being gathered. A second round of meetings took place in July, and over 80 organisations have already engaged with this. The evidence is due to be submitted by the end of this month, and we will publish the review later this year.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that a sufficient number of criminal legal aid lawyers can provide suitable coverage across the country?

The Legal Aid Agency maintains a watch on this. The number of offices and solicitors’ firms to which franchises have been granted has increased. However, we clearly need to maintain a close watch on this. In my capacity as being interested in the prosperity, welfare and health of the legal professions, I shall certainly keep a close eye on it.

Economic Crime

4. What support he is providing to the CPS to tackle economic crime. [906699]

6. What support he is providing to the CPS to tackle economic crime. [906701]

Tackling economic crime requires a sophisticated multi-agency and cross-Government response. The Crown Prosecution Service is a vital part of that response. It prosecutes some of the more serious and complex cases, recovering a huge amount of ill-gotten gains. The Government are committed to tackling economic crime. We are introducing a programme of reforms to bring forward shortly, in particular, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) will know, the National Economic Crime Centre.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his well-deserved appointment. How effective does he believe that the new unexplained wealth orders will be in obtaining funds from criminal and their associates? How will this be applied to foreign criminals? Has he made any assessment of how much money will be raised in the next financial year, and how will that money be spent?

Unexplained wealth orders are a particularly valuable part of the armoury of the law enforcement agencies against corruption and bribery. They are a novel tool. The Government and the law enforcement agencies are looking at the correct and appropriate cases in which to use them. I am not aware of whether there has yet been any estimate of what might be realised by their use, but I expect that considerable numbers of them will be used over the coming months. An exercise is being undertaken to scope the first few to be started.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend update the House on the impact of the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements in tackling cases of economic crime, and particularly corruption and bribery?

This has been a particular success story. The current numbers, as I said earlier, show that these agreements have realised £650 million in penalties. They have been applied to some of the biggest multinational corporations in the country, ranging from banks to major supermarkets. They are a valuable tool, and I hope to see an increased use of them, but they have to be used carefully, because plainly they are not a substitute for prosecution; they can only be used in the right circumstances where, according to the code, they are the appropriate action.



Surgery Dates

Geoffrey holds regular surgeries. To book an appointment please click here or call 01822 612925.

Saturday 14th September
Holsworthy, Tavistock

Saturday 28th September
Bideford, Torrington