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Call to reduce criminal offences

Call to reduce criminal offences

England and Wales' legal review watchdog has called for a rethink on the number of criminal offences, arguing millions of people risk being criminalised by laws which should be scrapped to save time and money.

The Law Commission backed using civil penalties for minor breaches, arguing criminal sanctions should only be used to tackle serious wrongdoing.

It added a shake-up could save regulators in fields such as farming, food safety, banking and retail sales up to £11 million a year.

More than 3,000 criminal offences have come on to the statute book since 1997, the year Labour came into power, in part because of the rising numbers of agencies set up with the power to make criminal laws.

Professor Jeremy Horder, the law commissioner leading the project, said: "Relying on the criminal law to deter and punish risky behaviour in regulatory contexts may be an expensive, uncertain and ineffective strategy. Civil penalties are quicker and cheaper to enforce but they are not a soft option.

"People who breach regulations will often discover that civil fines can be higher than the penalties imposed by the courts.

"The commission believes that a principled criminal law should be used by regulators to target only the most serious cases of unacceptable risk-taking."