Prison sentences handed down to those found guilty of committing tax fraud have increased by 25% according to the Ministry of Justice’s most recent figures. Experts have suggested these figures, which show the average custodial sentence is now four years and one month, are an example of the increasingly determined approach being taken by HMRC and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) when it comes to combating these types of offences.
Tax fraud offences include tax evasion, as well as failure to pay VAT, excise and customs duty. When these cases come to court, observers have noted that prosecuting authorities are increasingly likely to argue that they should be considered as comparable to a host of other serious offences that have traditionally attracted more substantial punishments.
When judges make a decision about an offender’s level of culpability or the loss their actions have caused, they need to decide where they fall in relation to a set of pre-determined categories. Successfully arguing that an offence belongs in a higher category opens up the possibility of greater sentencing power for the judge, and a longer period to be spent in prison for the person found guilty. The CPS, working alongside HMRC, can also appeal against a sentence handed down by the court if it feels it is overly lenient.
Lawyers involved in representing clients in high-value fraud cases have identified this as part of a growing trend whereby those found guilty of engaging in white-collar crime are being treated more harshly by the UK’s criminal courts. There is also seen to be mounting political pressure on investigating and prosecuting authorities to deal more effectively with these types of offences. HMRC came under substantial criticism from Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, which stated in a report in 2016 that the agency lacked a clear strategy for dealing with tax fraud and was failing to successfully prosecute enough cases.
It is speculated that legislative changes scheduled to take effect in late 2018 may see sentences for tax fraud increase further. The introduction of strict liability for offshore tax evasion is expected to lead to a rise in prosecutions when individuals fail to notify authorities about their chargeability for tax or to accurately file returns concerning offshore assets.
Financially complex investigations require the highest quality legal advice to ensure that your position is protected. With years of experience in handling such cases on behalf of our clients, the criminal defence solicitors at Wilford Smith are best placed to advise you in relation to a tax fraud investigation. Our lawyers take pride in their reputation for unique representation, giving clients a service that is exceptionally strategic and results driven, and can attract the highest calibre barristers to provide support when necessary.