The Law Commission has raised concerns that the increasing use of financial penalties to punish white-collar criminals means they are being treated more favourably than "traditional criminal" offenders.

The commission said authorities like the Commerce Commission were increasingly resorting to financial, or pecuniary, penalties instead of criminal sanctions to deal with a range of commercial and financial offending such as insider trading, price fixing and money laundering.

The penalties could be substantial - up to $1 million for an individual or more than $10 million for a company. First used in legislation in 1986, they were now a feature of 15 Acts of Parliament.

The commission said one of the attractions of financial penalties for enforcement bodies was that they were easier to obtain than criminal convictions because as civil rather than criminal matters, they required a lower standard of proof and more relaxed rules of evidence and procedure.


However, while potentially large, the penalties could also have benefits for offenders.

There was no chance of imprisonment and less risk to a person's travel and work opportunities because of the lack of conviction.

Law Commission President Sir Grant Hammond said there was a risk that civil pecuniary penalties "might allow white-collar, corporate offenders to be treated more favourably than those accused of more traditional criminal offending".

The commission was seeking public feedback on the use of the penalties to ensure there was a correct balance between the effective enforcement of laws and fairness for individuals.