Law Commission recommends repeal of nine offences

Fraud laws could be greatly simplified if the government adopts recommendations released by the Law Commission last week.

The commission's report responded to a question by Jack Straw when he was Home Secretary on the effectiveness of fraud laws.

Straw asked whether juries comprehended fraud laws and whether the laws were fair to defendants.

In response, the commission recommends the creation of two new statutory offences - fraud and obtaining services dishonestly.

The change would require the repeal of the eight deception offences created by the Thefts Act [1968-96] and the abolition of the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud.

The offence of fraud would cover false representation, wrongful failure to disclose information and secret abuse of a position of trust, with the intent to gain or cause loss or expose another party to the risk of loss.

The offence of obtaining services dishonestly would cover "theft-like" offences and would not require proof of deception or fraud.

Judge Alan Wilkie, the law commissioner with responsibility for criminal law, said the commission's aim was to make the law "clearer and simpler".

"We believe that, as a result, all concerned, whether jurors, police, victims, defendants or lawyers, will be better placed to understand who has committed a crime and who hasn't," he said.

DLA insurance claims fraud head Jamie Taylor said commission's recommendations would make a significant change to criminal law.

"If the proposed legislation changes are accepted, in future anyone who is prosecuted for pursuing fraudulent insurance claims would no longer be charged with conspiracy to defraud or deception.

"Rather they would face being charged with one or more of the new offences of fraud," he said.

The report will be considered by the government, which must decide whether to introduce the recommendations to parliament.

The report notes that juries currently cannot be given a "single, straightforward definition of fraud".

"Serious fraud indictments may need to employ a number of different offences before the alleged fraudulent behaviour is fully covered, leading to long, confusing trials," the report says.

It says the wrong offence being used can result in unjustified acquittals and costly appeals.

"The law always seems to be struggling to catch up, with a patchwork serious of specific offences designed to cope with particular ways of committing a fraud," the report says.