This post was written by Simon D. Hart.
After months of speculation, and rumoured turf wars within the UK government, it has today been confirmed that the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) will not be broken up and will remain independent of the new National Crime Agency (“NCA”). The SFO will retain both its investigative and prosecution powers in relation to major economic fraud and corruption. Crucially for the SFO, this means it retains control of investigations and prosecutions under the new Bribery Act 2010 which comes into force on 1 July.
There had been considerable speculation that the SFO would be broken up with its investigative powers being folded into the new NCA and its prosecution powers being passed to the existing Crown Prosecution Service. Richard Alderman, the director of the SFO, had been arguing strongly that the way to tackle serious fraud and advance the anti-corruption agenda was for there to continue to be a single, specialised unit which had both investigative and prosecution powers. He appears to have won that battle – but perhaps not the war. The sting in the tail of today’s announcement is that the government has left open the prospect of the future of the SFO being reviewed one year after the NCA becomes operational in 2013.
The recent uncertainty over the future of the SFO has given rise to the departures of a significant number of senior personnel from the organisation. Whilst today’s announcement means the SFO will survive in its current form for now, the fact that it may only be a stay of execution is unlikely to assist the SFO in recruiting the investigators and prosecutors it now needs to deal with complex and high value fraud and corruption.