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Serious Fraud Office

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2013

3. What recent assessment he has made of the success rate, measured by convictions, of investigations by the Serious Fraud Office. (149747)

The SFO has a 71% conviction rate by defendant for the current financial year to date. It prosecutes highly specialised cases, the number of which is small, so year-on-year change in the rate is not a particularly good indicator of trends. Although there is always room for improvement, I am broadly pleased with the SFO’s conviction rate. The report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate in November last year found that the outcomes in SFO cases demonstrate that it can deliver under pressure. There will be a follow-up inspection within the next year.

SFO investigations have increased in duration to 28.8 months on average, success rates are down, as the Attorney-General has just told us, and its previous director handed out £1 million to departing staff without authorisation. Can the Attorney-General tell us how much money will have to be set aside on his watch for legal fees and damages as a result of botched investigations by the SFO?

I take it that the final part of that was the question and the rest was comment. The position is that at the moment the SFO is handling ongoing civil litigation within its budget. In so far as it requires further resources, it will speak to the Treasury.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain to the House that the way those statistics are recorded changed three or four years ago and outline the reason for that change?

My hon. Friend is right that the statistics for SFO cases were previously based on the number of defendants sentenced, rather than those convicted. Consequently, because the number of cases is very small, we can get huge statistical shifts simply by looking at it in a different way. That is why, as I explained earlier, I do not think that trends in the statistics are a good indication of performance. Overall, I prefer to rely on HMCPSI’s report.

As the Attorney-General knows, the offence of misconduct in public office occurs when a public officer, without reasonable excuse,

“wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself… to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.”

Is he aware of any reason why the former director of the SFO, Richard Alderman, should not be investigated for misconduct in public office over the circumstances of his failure, as senior accounting officer, to obtain authorisation for payments to senior staff members of over £1 million?

As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, if it is thought that somebody has committed a criminal offence and it will be subject to investigation, that would not be a matter on which I could possibly comment in the House.

The SFO received 2,731 tip-offs from members of the public last year but launched only three investigations into information supplied by the public. If members of the public report something to the SFO, can they have confidence that it will be investigated?

Yes, they can be confident that the reports will be looked at. Indeed, there are other routes by which reports might come to the SFO, including through the City police and Action Fraud. There is clearly a requirement for prioritisation, but the SFO will examine and consider any reports it receives.