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Rapid Response Team: 0800 559 3500
Switchboard: +44 (0)203 947 1539
Rapid Response Team: 0800 559 3500
Switchboard: +44 (0)203 947 1539

The Serious Fraud Office has produced a formal response to independent, in-depth assessments of how it functions.

Author: Azizur Rahman  11 June 2020

Business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli considers the agency’s reaction to criticism of its working methods.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has announced the action it may take in response to a detailed assessment of its leadership and case management. Hiring of paralegals to help review documents – and minimise the use of outside consultants - is one of the measures proposed by the SFO, following reports on its effectiveness by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI). HMCPSI was given the task of conducting independent analysis of how the SFO works.

One HMCPSI report, released last July, said the SFO’s sharp focus on delivery of case work had led to a culture where neglectful approaches to management were tolerated. Another HMCPSI report, published last September, examined criticisms that SFO cases are often slow to progress; with some having been ongoing for more than seven years. Since arriving at the SFO as Director in 2018, Lisa Osofsky has closed a number of long-running investigations; including those into GlaxoSmithKline and individuals at Rolls-Royce.

The HMCPSI had highlighted the complexity and large amounts of evidence in SFO cases but said that the agency struggled to staff cases appropriately and process digital materials. It recommended that the SFO assess its available resources and devise new staffing models.

The SFO has said it accepts most of the HMCPSI recommendations. This indicates a general acceptance by it that changes need to be made in order to progress cases; with a particular focus on the support that should be provided to staff to help achieve their investigation goals. It is a surprise, however, that the SFO response only partly accepts the recommendations regarding case allocation; where cases are not being taken forward promptly after allocation. This is arguably a key issue to be addressed.

The SFO’s digital forensic unit, which has been described as being behind in its processing of material, also needs swift attention. The SFO’s wide-ranging search and seizure powers have perhaps been used abundantly, without consideration of the resources needed to process every item taken. A new digital strategy for each case would lead to a more streamlined approach to seizure powers, and so ease the burden further down the line.

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Azizur Rahman

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Aziz Rahman is Senior Partner at Rahman Ravelli and its founder. His ability to coordinate national, international and multi-agency defences has led to success in some of the most significant corporate crime cases of this century and top rankings in international legal guides. He is recognised worldwide as one of the most capable legal experts regarding top-level, high-value commercial and financial disputes.

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