SFO’s weaknesses detailed in De Grazia review

The Serious Fraud Office has been slammed for it’s low conviction rates, lack
of focus of its investigations and lawyers who lack the skills necessary to
increase their conviction rates.

Former senior New York City prosecutor Jessica de Grazia performed the review
after being jointly commissioned jointly by the former SFO Director Robert
Wardle and former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith.

In her 163-page review De Grazia said that in addition to the skills shortage
in lawyers and investigators, unfocused investigations at the SFO are caused by
a lack of clarity about the roles, responsibilities, and qualifications of case
controllers and Assistant Directors.

‘Some case controllers do not exercise sufficient control over

‘Most Assistant Directors do not exercise sufficient oversight of case
controllers. While there are some very capable senior managers in the SFO, there
are others in key positions on the senior management team who lack the
operational knowledge, experience and perseverance required to supervise, mentor
and problem-solve, and to command the respect of the troops.

‘As a consequence of the leadership deficits described above, a “pass the
buck”, risk-averse, “complaint” culture has developed in the SFO. This culture
discourages robust decision-making and innovative and effective use of powers.
It also leads to a culture of delay, which is reinforced by inadequate
performance management. Inadequate performance management has led to a situation
where some staff abuse the complaint process by filing grievances against line
managers when they provide frank assessments,’ she said.

According to De Grazia, comparative data showed that during the five year
period of 2003-2007, the SFO’s average conviction rate was only 61% of
defendants whose cases were concluded during this period while the Manhattan
District Attorneys Office (equivalent to the SFO) had a 92% conviction rate.

She said that the primary internal cause of the SFO’s low productivity and
conviction rates compared to its New York counterparts is a lack of focus – in
whole or in part – in some SFO investigations. Unfocused investigations are a
matter of grave concern.

They may:

??result in defendants who should have been charged not being charged;

??be unfair to victims and also to suspects who must wait too long for

their reputations to be cleared;

??cause cases to collapse post-charge;

??lead to unwieldy trials that are not judge- and jury-friendly; and

??waste limited criminal justice resources.

The report also suggested an inappropriate use of resources.

According to De Grazia, in 2007 SFO employed 56 staff lawyers and spent an
additional £4,227,000 on external counsel ranging from newly qualified
barristers to Queen’s Counsel. During the five-year period for years 2003-2007,
the SFO prosecuted to conclusion a total of 166 defendants.

In sharp contrast to this, the Manhattan District Attorneys Office Frauds
Bureau which is staffed by only 19 lawyers (slightly less than a third of the
SFO’s permanent legal staff) and does not contract out any aspect of its work to
the external bar, concluded the prosecution of 124 defendants in the same

Further reading:

Exodus of SFO directors follow Wardle’s exit

SFO: road to nowhere?

Fraud: stop the rot


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