Deferred Prosecution Agreements have received Royal Assent and are on track for a 2014 introduction. But what is a DPA and how will it affect businesses in the UK?
A Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) is an agreement between the prosecution and the organisation under investigation to defer full criminal prosecution as long as specific conditions are satisfied. These conditions could include payment of a penalty or fine, reparation to victims, undertakings and other measures to prevent future offending.
The idea is that economic or “white collar” crimes such as fraud, money laundering, bribery and corruption will be dealt with in a more focused and appropriate way. Indeed, these types of crimes can be extremely complex meaning long and expensive trials and the punishments available to the Judge, upon a finding of guilt, can often appear too severe for the facts at hand.
So as not to compromise the Rule of Law, it is suggested that DPAs would only be appropriate in the more serious cases or where it is in the interests of justice. It would be for a Judge to decide, in a private hearing, whether it was an appropriate method of dealing with a particular crime based on the individual circumstances of each case. The final terms of any DPA will be heard in open court and then published, for all to see.
Following proper consultation Parliament have now approved the law which will allow DPAs in England and Wales.
In light of these coming changes, companies should also be aware that they will still retain their legal privilege as part of the terms of the DPA and, as such, should always take advice from a specialist fraud solicitor at the first sign of an investigation to ensure their position is protected and any potential financial and reputational damage is mitigated.
By Sacha Van de Perre, trainee solicitor in Stephensons fraud and regulatory department
Stephensons’ fraud and regulatory team specialise in advising and defending businesses and business people accused of economic crime throughout the UK.