SFO struggle to resource cases adequately

17th October 2019 Business Crime

Over recent years, the SFO has been subject to much criticism for delays in case progression and it therefore did not come as any surprise when the HMCPSI published a report last week concluding that the SFO has at times struggled to appropriately staff cases and process digital material.

Anyone who has been involved in an investigation conducted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) be they a suspect (individual or corporate), a witness or victim, will have experienced first-hand the inordinate amount of time it takes for a case to be resolved. Take for example the investigation into Rolls Royce. It took the SFO over four years since the commencement of the investigation and more pertinently, two years from the company entering into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) for the SFO to decide not to pursue any individuals. A decision you would expect could be made promptly given the evidence must have been available to enter into a DPA. The SFO’s current list of investigations include investigations which have been ongoing for over six years (Eurasian National Resources Corp and GPT Special Project Management Ltd, a subsidiary of aerospace company Airbus SE).

The HMCPSI report that cases are being accepted in a timely manner but delays then occur. The two key blockages to case progression are; firstly, it is taking too long to allocate a case controller and a suitable team, and secondly, the digital forensic unit is significantly behind in its processing of the digital material which the case teams need to investigate. Other delays are attributed to inconsistent application of the operational handbook with individual case controllers operating in their preferred manner. 

The HMCPSI urge that it would be wrong to read their report negatively and to form the view that the SFO is ineffective, as they state it is not. However, they state there is undoubtedly ways the SFO can improve but, for the most part, it already has in place the frameworks within which the necessary improvements can be achieved. The current director of the SFO, Lisa Osofsky, has now been in post for over a year during which time she has consistently expressed her intent to prioritise the need to ensure the SFO is working effectively and has personally indicated that the organisation removes cases that are not going anywhere.

The full report can be read here.

JMW Solicitor’s Business Crime and Regulation team can assist individuals or corporates subject to an SFO investigation, whether as a suspect or witness.

The author of this article, Amy Shaffron, Senior Associate in London can be contacted via Amy.Shaffron@jmw.co.uk.

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Amy Shaffron is a Senior Associate located in Londonin our Business Crime and Regulation department

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