Letter: Now clock this

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The Independent Culture
Sir: You are right to identify the need for trading standards departments to be adequately resourced ("New crackdown on `rip-off Britain' ", 23 July). However, in your example of car clocking and the need to create a new offence, this has long been an offence and motor traders are regularly prosecuted for supplying goods to which a false trade description has been applied, ie an incorrect odometer reading (s1 a,b Trade Descriptions Act 1968).

Enforcement of the existing law depends in part on the extent to which the prosecuting authority can recover the costs of the investigation and prosecution. The Lord Chief Justice in R v Northallerton Magistrates Court, ex p Dove (The Times, 17 June 1999) stated that "the costs ordered to be paid, should not in the ordinary way be grossly disproportionate to the fine .... It was preferable to achieve an acceptable total by reducing the sum of the costs ordered rather than reducing the fine." The justice to the defendant of the Lord Chief's overall approach is clear, but there are serious consequences which flow from it.

Offences created to protect the consumer and the environment are generally costly in terms of officers' time and resources to investigate and prosecute. If costs orders are to be restricted in preference to fines, which go to central government funds, then it follows that there will be fewer prosecutions. Alternatively, the taxpayer will pay for most of the investigation of the clocker's offending. A Fair Trading Bill should address this.