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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

HMCPSI publishes report on case progression at the Serious Fraud Office

HMCPSI publishes report on case progression at the Serious Fraud Office


The latest report looks at the progress made since its 2019 inspection  

His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) published its follow-up inspection report on the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) case progression on 4 May, which reviews the SFO’s progress towards implementing the seven recommendations made in HMCPSI's original inspection report published in October 2019.

HMCPSI’s most recent inspection report concludes that the SFO has made extensive improvements in handling and progressing its cases, but further action is needed. More specifically, three of the seven recommendations set out in the 2019 report have been fully met, with the four remaining recommendations deemed partially met. His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, Andrew T. Cayley CMG QC, concludes in a statement on the SFO’s implementation of the recommendations that “While there has been clear evidence of progress, we could not conclude, yet, that the intended impact of the change had been fully embedded in the organisation.”

This latest report on the SFO’s case progression puts forward three new recommendations that build on the recommendations set out in the 2019 report. Namely, to help the SFO address its remaining operational issues, the HMCPSI has recommended: the development of a strategic resourcing model by December 2023; by March 2024 all case controllers to be provided with enhanced management and leadership skills training; and the establishment of a standardised casework assurance process that captures pre-investigation, investigation and post charge stages and ensures compliance with the process on all SFO cases by September 2023. The HMCPSI states that it will work with the SFO in the coming months, with the aim of meeting these new recommendations by March 2024.

The HMCPSI’s follow-up report also reviews the SFO’s responses to two external reviews of the organisation published in 2022 by Sir David Calvert-Smith and Brian Altman KC, which specifically looked at two significant and high-profile SFO case failures. In this regard, the inspectors conclude that there is more work to do but improvements have been made by the SFO in several areas outlined in the independent reviews, including a change in approach to resourcing and more investment in technology to assist staff outputs.

The HMCPSI examined six SFO cases from the point of case acceptance to the decision to charge as part of its inspection in 2019, following criticism about the SFO’s handling of cases, how it progresses some cases and the time taken for cases to reach a conclusion. The original report identified two examples of good practice and put forward seven recommendations, as follows: the SFO should develop a resourcing model that takes into account staff skills and time available to progress cases effectively; the SFO should review resourcing in a holistic manner to ensure equity across cases in allocation of the teams and skills and reconsider allocation of the case controller and team when it becomes apparent that cases are not being taken forward promptly after acceptance; the SFO should review resourcing across divisions to ensure that resources are allocated according to case needs, and in such a way that when changes are required, there is as little disruption as possible to case progression; the SFO should be clear about the use of independent counsel, including guidance for case controllers on their deployment and monitoring, and a mechanism for evaluating the value for money they provide; the SFO should develop understanding across the casework divisions of the impact of seizures on the digital forensic unit, and the need to be proportionate in their demands and expectations of this unit; the SFO should consider how it can improve the focus and delivery of training to support case progression; and the heads of division should set and monitor key milestones in the investigation and prosecution of cases, and should enforce compliance with the operational handbook.

Commenting on the latest progress report, Lisa Osofsky, Director of the SFO, said: “Over the last 12 months, on top of securing the conviction of eight company executives, recovering over £100m in proceeds of crime and securing the UK’s largest ever corporate criminal conviction, we have been working flat out to improve our ability to fight serious fraud and economic crime. From developing further support for our investigators and digital forensic experts, to how we prioritise our finite resources, we have already delivered real reform – and I thank all my staff for their dedication. We accept all HMCPSI’s recommendations, which we are committed to implement at pace as part of our comprehensive change programme.”