The U.K. government is coming under further pressure to abandon controversial plans to scrap the Serious Fraud Office, the agency responsible for prosecuting high-profile financial crimes.

A break-up of the SFO would be “a wholly unwise and dangerous move” that would only benefit criminals, according to the Fraud Advisory Panel, a grouping of senior lawyers, accountants, and former prosecutors.

The panel made its comments in a formal response to a government consultation paper on the future of financial regulation. It supported the main thrust of the government's plans, which is to bring together various anti-fraud bodies, including the SFO, in a new Economic Crime Agency, but only if the SFO's structure remains intact, so that it has responsibility for both investigating and prosecuting crimes.

The Panel said it was concerned that the government has changed tack since publishing its ideas and now wants to cut the SFO in half, giving its investigatory role to the police and its prosecution powers to the Crown Prosecution Service. This would be “an enormously retrograde step in the fight against financial crime,” it said.

The government has already had to rethink its plans for the ECA. Originally, it was going to be responsible for all white-collar crime, but in November it decided to keep securities market laws, such as insider dealing and market abuse, out of its remit.

The government said it would not comment before issuing further information about the future of financial regulation next month.