Deferred prosecution agreements (DPA) are driven by cost considerations and could be something of a damp squib, criminal lawyers warned this week on the eve of their introduction.

From today, US-style DPAs will become part of the toolkit of the Serious Fraud Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, enabling companies to deal with allegations of fraud, bribery and other economic crime without being prosecuted.

Instead, the prosecutor may invite the board to agree a judge-approved DPA which may include a fine, as well as implementing a compliance programme and agreeing to ongoing monitoring.

A code of practice for their use was published by the SFO and CPS last week.

Mike Rainford, partner at Manchester firm Burton Copeland, said: ‘Without a doubt, this is driven by cost. If it means we get the money in and we don’t have to spend on prosecutions, it may not be a bad device to have the sword of Damocles hanging over a company’s head.’

Michael Caplan QC, partner at London firm Kingsley Napley, said: ‘The bottom line is that we’ve got to be careful that the cost driver doesn’t bring the English legal system, which is still respected throughout the world, into disrepute.’