According to reports, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office is looking for a new director after Lisa Osofsky’s five-year tenure ends this August. The SFO needs a different type of leadership. In my view, that leadership should be drawn from law enforcement, from those steeped in criminal investigation.
The SFO prosecutes serious or complex fraud, bribery, and corruption cases. We have previously levelled some criticism at Ms. Osofsky, a former FBI lawyer.
Some of the organization’s high-profile failings have not only been avoidable, but fall into the “rookie error” category. Among these are several related to the prosecution’s duty to make full and frank pre-trial disclosure to the defense, a worrying situation given the nature of the legislation involved.
With its ongoing existence having been called into question, the SFO needs a total revamp. From my perspective, I still believe that there is a role to play for such a specialized multi-disciplinary organization. There is no point in throwing the baby out with the bath water.
But investigating to meet the criminal standard of proof is an art form. There are so many considerations to be made, so many balls in play, that having the skill to keep an eye on all of them will (in my view) most likely be acquired through law enforcement experience.
I would like to see a current or former senior law enforcement officer installed as the head of the SFO. However, I would go even further. I would also move the SFO under the wing of the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA – the UK’s equivalent of the FBI). The NCA would know best which investigations are appropriate for the SFO to undertake.
For far too long, the SFO has appeared to pick up investigations that seem to have an element of political intrigue or are high-profile, front-page cases. These cases are often not the most productive investigations for several reasons, not least of which is that there are many more deserving cases that are overlooked.
By engaging a director with a law enforcement background, more seamless interaction could take place with the NCA. I do not see this as a takeover, more a metamorphosis, dragging the SFO into the new millennium (albeit 23 years late).
There’s only so many last chance saloons in which the SFO can drink, and time is ticking if it’s to get a grip on successful prosecutions going ahead.
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