Review of Serious Fraud Office Raises Concerns
A leading fraud solicitor, Anthony Barnfather, from Manchester law firm Pannone LLP, has voiced concerns over a new report which levels heavy criticism at the Serious Fraud Office.
The report, published by the US Attorney General’s Office, is from Jessica De Grazia, a former prosecutor in the United States. It makes a comparative study of the Serious Fraud Office of England and Wales (SFO) with two of its American (New York) counterparts.
Commented Barnfather, “De Gracia’s review is highly critical of the way the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is currently operating and highlights the lack of training, skills and effective case management within the organisation. Defence lawyers have known for some time that the SFO needed revision and this study makes several recommendations as to how it should be reformed. Emphasis is placed on creating a new structure under the Director and Assistant Director all of which closely follow the New York models of training prosecutors in strong investigative, legal, advocacy and case management skills.
Concepts such as early case screening and plea negotiations may still be at early stages of development in England and Wales, but under the recommendations made within the Review; these would become the cornerstones of a new robust approach to weeding out unviable prosecutions at the earliest opportunity. This would increase the rates of early guilty pleas and as such leave only those cases which merit the resources proceeding to trial.
The Review criticises the current disclosure regime, which is perceived to be the biggest burden, both in terms of time and resources, which the SFO face. Adopting the American approach; that Disclosure is to ensure that the innocent are not convicted, the Review proposes that (at least in complex and document heavy cases) the “keys of the warehouse” should be offered to Defence Teams who are clearly in a better position to determine what material may assist them in the preparation of their case. It suggests that this approach would result in the whole disclosure process being dealt with more effectively and efficiently, a point likely to be well received by most Defence lawyers acting for those prosecuted.
Implementation of the recommendations of the Review would introduce huge changes to the way that complex fraud cases are prosecuted and defended in the UK. It remains to be seen if such a distinctly America approach would fit into the criminal justice system of England and Wales.
Anthony Barnfather of Pannone LLP can be reached by calling 0870 164 2372, for more information please visit http://www.pannone.com/solicitors-for-business/regulatory.asp
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- Business Fraud Solicitor
- Pannone LLP
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