'Witness intimidation' hampering fraud convictions

Courts and legal system are ill-prepared for hearing technical cases...

Courts and legal system are ill-prepared for hearing technical cases...

Convictions for crimes such as fraud are being held back by a culture of "haranguing and bullying" within the legal fraternity as victims are made to feel like criminals in court, according to members of London's fraud squad.

And with online crimes, driven by identity theft, rising rapidly, this is a worrying state of affairs for police forces already under fire for securing too few convictions. The process is also being hampered by a lack of understanding of the often complex issues from "stupid" juries and even judges, according to one leading lawyer.

Speaking out at the SAS Fraud Detection and Prevention Leadership Forum in London this week, members of the capital's Fraud Squad and other attendees accused the UK legal system of valuing tradition and courtroom bravado over justice.

One delegate from the Metropolitan Police said: "Victims often come out feeling like a criminal, saying 'never again'." He said victims are "torn apart" during cross examination, adding "the way barristers treat people is more like a sword fight than an examination of the truth".

Mark Solon, from law firm Bond Solon, admitted his peers will employ "bullying tactics" but said it's all part and parcel of the "adversarial system".

"You need to be aware that defence lawyers are trying to get their hooks into you."

But Solon did concede that showmanship used as a weapon by legal counsel may be a sign of a flimsy defence: "If all he's got is chucking his spectacles down then perhaps he doesn't have that much more to go on."

Another problem exists when seeking prosecutions for complicated crimes around ID theft and online transactions where judges and juries often get lost along the way.

Solon said: "With a fraud case you do get a lot of paperwork. In some cases, you can spend 12 months reading it only to find half the jury can't even read the oath card."

"These people are so stupid they can't even get off jury service."

As such he expressed little hope for them understanding complex fraud cases - and some of the older judges are often little better.

Speaking anonymously to silicon.com, one internet investigator who prepares intelligence for criminal investigations for organisations such as the Business Software Alliance said: "One of the problems with technical evidence is that technology is so fast moving and complex that juries, who may not know much about it, are left baffled. But if you dilute it too much so they can understand, you may miss some of the important details of the case."

"As a result a lot of cases have been more or less thrown out," he said, adding such a situation may often discourage policemen from pursuing a certain case.