Civil penalties use 'may save £11m'
Millions of people risk being criminalised by laws which should be scrapped to save time and money, the body responsible for reviewing the law in England and Wales said.
The Law Commission said criminal sanctions should only be used to tackle serious wrongdoing and, by using civil penalties instead for minor breaches, regulators in fields such as farming, food safety, banking and retail sales could save £11 million.
The call for reform comes after more than 3,000 criminal offences have come on to the statute book since 1997, the year Labour came into power - many of which are rarely used.
Professor Jeremy Horder, the law commissioner leading the project, said: "Relying on the criminal law to deter and punish risky behaviour in regulatory contexts may be an expensive, uncertain and ineffective strategy.
"Civil penalties are quicker and cheaper to enforce but they are not a soft option.
"People who breach regulations will often discover that civil fines can be higher than the penalties imposed by the courts.
"The commission believes that a principled criminal law should be used by regulators to target only the most serious cases of unacceptable risk-taking."
An increase in the number of agencies set up with the power to make criminal laws has led to thousands more criminal offences being put on the statute book since the late 1980s, the commission said.
"The areas regulated by these agencies cover a wide range of risk-posing activities, and involve millions of people and thousands of businesses," a spokesman said.
"By turning to civil penalties for minor breaches, regulators could reduce costs to themselves and the criminal justice system by £11 million a year."