Serious Fraud Office under threat of closure
The Prime Minister has pledged to scrap the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in her party's manifesto. This is a revival of her plans first disclosed in 2011 when she was Home Secretary but was forced to withdraw in 2014 following pressure from fellow Cabinet ministers, the former attorney-general Dominic Grieve and former justice secretary Ken Clarke in particular. Mrs May wishes to incorporate the functions of the SFO into the National Crime Agency (NCA), the pledge in the manifesto states “We will strengthen Britain’s response to white collar crime by incorporating the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency, improving intelligence sharing and bolstering the investigation of serious fraud, money laundering and financial crime”.
The SFO has come under criticism for failing to perform and live up to its expectations. It was severely criticised for the failure to secure convictions in the Libor rate-fixing scandal where after a lengthy and expensive trial all six brokers indicted were acquitted after only one day of deliberations. The Deferred Prosecution Agreement with Tesco this year also provoked criticism and praise in equal measure. Commentators have suggested that a more confident and assured SFO has evolved with notable successes such as the £671m in fines paid by Rolls-Royce for corruption in January this year.
The proposed move has caused concern among lawyers and anti-corruption groups who fear a change in organisational set up will mean a loss of expertise, independence and momentum of current investigations, for example the SFO’s ongoing investigation into Barclays Bank’s dealings with Qatar in 2008. On 30 May a group of 19 leading barristers and anti-corruption campaigners wrote to Theresa May calling for a public consultation on the proposal stating that they feared ‘enormous’ risks and ‘significant damage’ to the UK’s ability to investigate economic crime.
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.