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The Home Office today announced plans to bring fraud laws into the 21st Century with a major overhaul in existing legislation. The government reckons the overhaul is necessary because "existing laws do not adequately tackle the wide range of possible fraudulent activity or keep pace with rapidly developing technology".

Ministers said they want to use the review to plough a clear path through a thicket of existing, sometimes confusing or contradictory, rules.

A consultation paper, launched by Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland yesterday, proposes a general offence of fraud which could be committed in three ways: by false representation, by wrongfully failing to disclose information and by abuse of position.

Baroness Scotland said: "Fraud costs the UK economy £14bn a year so it is vital we tackle this problem effectively. But the current laws do not cover the wide range of frauds which can be committed and it is too easy for defendants to escape justice because of legal loopholes.

"Modern criminals are also increasingly sophisticated and use technology to commit frauds. For example, buying services over the Internet could be subject to fraud because of a deficiency in the current law."

'Specialist fraud' excluded from consultation

The consultation paper seeks views on whether the new law will cover all fraudulent behaviour that needs to be criminalised, without affecting activities that ought to be lawful. It also seeks views on the possible extension of the existing offence of fraudulent trading, and on the creation of a new offence of possessing equipment to commit frauds. The government also wants to canvass view on whether existing conspiracy to defraud offences might be prosecuted under the proposed new law of fraud.

The consultation does not cover specialist branches of fraud - such as forgery and counterfeiting, false accounting, tax evasion, insider dealing, misleading market practices, benefit fraud and intellectual property offences - which the government reckons need to be considered separately.

The government says it wants to consult widely on its proposals before coming up with a future Fraud Bill. We hope the Home Secretary's faith in ID cards as the 'silver bullet' solution to society's ills doesn't colour what would otherwise promises to be a worthwhile debate.

Copies of the consultation document can be found on the Home Office website. The consultation closes on 9 August 2004. ®

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