Since 1997, more than 3000 “new” criminal offences have been added to the statute book. This does not mean that the UK has become a demonstrably more criminal country. It is largely a reflection of the fact that it has become common for criminal offences to be created in relatively minor, regulatory, contexts.

The Law Commission has reached the view that the criminal law is used too often in instances where a non-criminal civil penalty, or other non-criminal measure, would better fit the regulatory context, and fairer to those subject to regulation. It has developed 16 proposals in relation to ways in which the criminal law should be used in future when government departments or regulatory bodies are seeking to deter and punish certain kinds of conduct. We welcome the publication of these proposals, as we consider that the criminal law is an excessively burdensome threat over the heads of well-meaning business executives, and often no deterrent at all to the crooked.

The proposals are set out in some detail in a wide-ranging consultation paper published on 25 August 2010. This follows the Macrory Report, which noted that “there may be a case for decriminalising certain offences thereby reserving criminal sanctions for the most serious cases of regulatory non-compliance”.