Under a DPA, a prosecutor would lay, but not immediately proceed with, criminal charges against a company. The company would be offered a chance to ‘self-report’ by publicly admitting wrongdoing and meeting conditions such as financial penalties, confiscation of any profits of wrongdoing, regular monitoring and internal reform.

Time limits would be set for these conditions, and the process would be overseen by a judge to ensure it is “fair, in the public interest and that the conditions properly reflect the nature of the wrongdoing”. The DPA might include reparation made to victims of the company’s wrongdoing.

In return, the company would avoid prosecution, although the threat of it would hang over them should they fail to comply with the agreement. In other words, the prosecution would be ‘deferred’.

The Solicitor General, Edward Garnier QC, MP, said there would always be some cases where a prosecution was in the public interest and was the “only option”, but that DPAs would save the time and expense of investigations and prosecutions.

Writing in the foreword to the consultation paper, the Solicitor General and the Minister for Prisons and Youth Justice, Crispin Blunt MP, note that fraud costs the UK an estimated £73bn each year. Investigations and trials, they write, are “forbiddingly long, expensive and complicated”, particularly where they involve multiple jurisdictions, and identifying wrongdoing depends on commercial organisations co-operating or whistleblowers coming forward.