Private law firms will be hired by police to pursue criminal suspects for profit, under a radical new scheme to target cyber criminals and fraudsters.
In a pilot project by the City of London police, the lead force on fraud in England and Wales, officers will pass details of suspects and cases to law firms, which will use civil courts to seize the money.
The force says the scheme is a way of more effectively tackling fraud – which is now the biggest type of crime, estimated to cost £193bn a year. It is overwhelming police and the criminal justice system.
The experiment, which is backed by the government and being closely watched by other law enforcement agencies, is expected to lead to cases reaching civil courts this year or early next year.
Officers will use the private law firms to attempt to seize suspects’ assets. If unsuccessful, police could decide to leave it at that or pursue the case themselves through the criminal courts.
Commander Chris Greany, head of economic crime at City of London police, said: “It is a huge shift … Civil recovery allows us to get hold of a criminal’s money sooner, and repay back victims sooner.”
The lead law firm taking part in the pilot is Mishcon de Reya, best known for representing Princess Diana in her divorce from Prince Charles.
Greany said: “Who benefits from this? The victim will benefit, because they will get their money back. We’ll benefit because the criminal will be skint and they will be brought back down to having nothing again, and have to get about their normal lives, and they won’t have status in the community.”
Robert Wynn Jones, a specialist in fraud at Mishcon de Reya, said the “novel and pragmatic” scheme would boost the deterrent to criminals. Wynn Jones said victims might be asked to pay legal costs, or specialist insurers could fund the fees in return for a 20-30% share of the money taken off criminals.
He said it would have to be financially worthwhile, meaning the scheme would only work for cases where losses ran into the hundreds of thousands. The use of private investigators would push up the cost.
“There is no way the police can investigate and pursue this level of fraud – they don’t have the resources.”
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Related news articles in Legal Week, Computer Business Review and Police Professional.