It is “sickening” that some have used the pandemic to commit fraud, Suella Braverman has said, as she promised Covid-related crimes will be prioritised by the Crown Prosecution Service.
The Attorney General told the Commons the Government is “committed to stopping criminals from benefiting from their ill-gotten gains” as MPs warned elderly constituents have been targeted by criminals attempted to sell fake vaccines door to door.
Conservative MPs Nicola Richards (West Bromwich East) and Jacob Young (Redcar) questioned what more the Government can to “crack down on” Covid-related crimes.
Ms Richards said: “Constituents in West Bromwich East have made me aware of some of the latest scams that criminals are using to exploit members of the public at this difficult time.
“These include text messages about Covid-related grants and criminals even going door to door pretending to sell vaccine doses.
“Could (Ms Braverman) update us on any discussions she has had with the CPS about these specific types of fraud cases?”
Responding, the Attorney General told MPs: “These crimes where Covid is the context for exploitation and fraudulent behaviour are completely sickening.
“The Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear in his interim charging protocol that offences related to Covid, including fraud, will be prioritised and these offenders will be prosecuted.”
Mr Young (Redcar) added: “In Redcar and Cleveland we have had a number of examples where fraudsters have tried to trick elderly people, in particular, with fake vaccines and scam NHS emails.
“What more can the Government do to crack down on these types of criminals?”
Ms Braverman replied: “The Government is committed to stopping criminals benefiting from their ill-gotten gains.
“In 2019/20 the CPS successfully utilised its specialist prosecutors to seize over £100 million through confiscation orders across all offence types.”
Meanwhile, Solicitor General Michael Ellis confirmed the Government is keeping an eye on the rate of domestic abuse prosecutions as the pandemic continues.
Shadow justice minister Alex Cunningham told the Commons: “Despite what the minister says, domestic abuse prosecutions continue to plummet.
“They have already fallen off the cliff-edge before the pandemic hit the justice system, with an annual decrease of something like 22% in the year up to March 2020.
“Can the Solicitor General tell me what pre-emptive action is being taken now to stop this freefall and maintain the confidence of the victims of these deplorable crimes?”
Mr Ellis replied: “The reality is though that of course all prosecutions have been affected by the pandemic, the whole court system, as well as most other functioning systems in this country, are adversely affected by the pandemic necessarily.
“But he has my assurance and the Government’s assurance that domestic abuse cases are amongst the highest priority work being dealt with by the criminal justice system.
“We are keeping our eye on this, they are extremely important cases and they must and should continue to be given the priority that they deserve.”
Shadow solicitor general Ellie Reeves warned the criminal justice system faces a “fundamental crisis” in general.
Ms Reeves said: “A backlog of 55,000 cases in our crown courts, victims waiting years for their cases to be heard, CPS letters failing to be of standard nearly 50% of the time.
“Whilst, of course, we welcome apprenticeships in the CPS, staff levels have been cut by 31% between 2011 and 2019.
“So, why have the Government law officers failed to get to grips with the fundamental crisis facing the CPS and our criminal justice system?”
Mr Ellis replied: “Well, I don’t accept the characterisation that (Ms Reeves) puts on the Crown Prosecution Service, indeed it is performing very well and the inspectorate confirms that.”