SFO to get new powers

The Home Office is proposing new powers to expand the Serious Fraud
Office’s ability to demand documents and information, in a bid to crack down on


The SFO would be authorised to exercise the power before the Director
had decided whether there was sufficient evidence to launch a formal
investigation, in order to acquire information needed to enable him to
reach a decision.

Under current law the power can only be exercised – in cases of fraud
– after a formal decision has been taken to launch an investigation,
which can only be done if ‘it appears to the Director, on
reasonable grounds, to involve serious or complex fraud’.

A consultation paper from the Home Office suggested that despite the
protection available to whistleblowers under the Employment Rights Act
– under which there is no limit to compensation for dismissal –
individuals and third party institutions, such as banks, prefer to be
compelled to supply information.

It prevents individuals and firms from being sued for breach of
confidentiality or under the Data Protection Act.

The paper also poses a series of questions to stakeholders in a bid to
find a consensus on what, if any, changes are needed in the law to deal
with bribery and corruption, including the definition of the crime.

An attempt to modernise the law failed a year ago when a joint Lords and

Commons committee, which gave a Draft Corruption Bill pre-legislative
scrutiny, severely criticised some of its basic concepts, including a
definition of corruption as improperly undermining the agency
relationship between anyone employed by or acting for a principal.

MPs and peers complained this would exclude the head of one company
bribing the head of another company not to bid for a contract, as no
agent would be involved.

The committee preferred a definition that involved giving an improper
advantage with the intention of influencing the recipient, or receiving
an improper advantage with the intention of being influenced.

The government feared this would criminalise actions which were not
currently ‘criminal.

The Crime and Security Act of 2001 already extended the jurisdiction of

UK courts to cover actions of UK citizens or companies overseas, but
few prosecutions have resulted.

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