The SFO: turning around the nightmare on Elm Street?

18 July 2012

The SFO has experienced a difficult few years. The Conservative Party’s pre-election policy was to dissemble the body and incorporate it into their proposed standalone Economic Crime Agency. Their aim was to improve what they described as the ‘lax and uncoordinated’ regulation that contributed to the economic crises.

In June 2011, the Home Secretary rowed back from the plans, announcing that the SFO would be staying as it was – for the time being, at least. This change of direction came about following widespread criticism of the planned reforms.
Despite the temporary reprieve, the SFO has continued to suffer. Their failings in the conduct of the case against Vincent Tchenguiz have been widely publicised, leading to the lengthy and costly investigation against him being dropped.  The SFO now faces a damages claim that could potentially run into tens of millions of pounds. 

Doubts over the SFO’s competence to investigate complex economic crime, which has gained increased prominence during the financial crises, has led some to brand the organisation the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ (Elm Street being the Clerkenwell street on which the SFO is located).

Under the new directorship of David Green, steps are being taken to beef up the fire power of the SFO.  Following the loss of several senior staff to the private sector, five high profile appointments were announced last week.  These include Geoffrey Rivlin QC, the former senior resident judge at Southwark Crown Court who has heard many cases brought by the SFO.  The appointment of HHJ Rivlin to advise the SFO on bringing cases to court is no doubt an attempt to revive the organisation’s flagging reputation. This is set against the background of the SFO agreeing to investigate the alleged rigging of the LIBOR rates, another high profile case in which the SFO’s reputation will be on the line.

However, the emphasis placed on the recruitment of senior staff will do little to address the organisation’s woeful lack of resources on the ground, or counter the severe budgetary cuts that they face. Until the SFO can turn its fortunes around, its long term future remains uncertain.

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