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No Voluntary Bill for Serious Fraud Office

In Serious Fraud Office v Evans and others [2014] EWHC 3803, Fulford LJ (sitting in the QBD) heard an application for a voluntary bill of indictment to be preferred against six respondents following a dismissal of a single charge of conspiracy to defraud by Hickinbottom J at Newport Crown Court. For these purposes, the factual basis for the allegations is not enormously important. It involved a prosecution brought by the SFO against a number of defendants for their alleged involvement in a scheme whereby liability for the restoration of certain coal mining sites in Wales had been transferred to an independent company based in the British Virgin Islands. The judgment is worth reading for its review of the authorities on the question of the circumstances in which the prosecution can successfully seek a voluntary bill following dismissal. The SFO’s application in this case was ultimately unsuccessful. However, in a detailed review of the authorities, Fulford LJ noted that “granting a voluntary bill of indictment is an exceptional course, and it will only be issued following a successful application to dismiss if i) the court has made a basic and substantive error of law that is clear or obvious; or ii) new evidence has become available that the prosecution could not put before the court at the time of the dismissal hearing which (along with any existing evidence) provides the prosecution with a sustainable factual basis for the charge; or iii) there was a procedural irregularity”. However, he went on to say that the above list was not exhaustive because other exceptional situations may arise. He had earlier highlighted the fact the voluntary bill procedure is the only means of effectively challenging a decision to dismiss on the basis that no appeal is provided for under sections 58-61 Criminal Justice Act 2003.


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