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Serious Fraud Office

Volume 580: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2014

I meet the director of the Serious Fraud Office regularly to discuss the continuing progress that it is making under his leadership. The Serious Fraud Office underwent an inspection by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate in 2012, at my request, and a follow-up inspection of the SFO is currently taking place. I will discuss the outcome of that inspection with the director following publication of the report.

The year 2010 was the last in which a criminal sanction was imposed on a corporate defendant by the Serious Fraud Office. Does the Attorney-General agree with the Opposition and the director of the Serious Fraud Office, David Green QC, that there should be a review of our highly restrictive laws on corporate liability, with a view to securing more prosecutions?

I have great sympathy with the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. In my judgment, this is an area that ought to be looked at and on which there may, indeed, be a degree of consensus across the House. Of course, if we were to do that, we would also have to make sure that such a process operates in a fair and reasonable way, but I have to say that I have listened very carefully to what the director of the Serious Fraud Office has said, and it seems to me that his remarks have considerable force.

Last week, the work of the Serious Fraud Office was severely undermined when a case it was prosecuting was stayed. What discussions has the Attorney-General had with the Lord Chancellor to address that issue?

The case did not involve the Serious Fraud Office, but the Financial Conduct Authority. In the circumstances, that case is not a matter that I have had to discuss with the director of the Serious Fraud Office.

Yes, but the Attorney-General will agree that the rule of law means that no one is above the law. It is, of course, very important that those who commit complex fraud should be prosecuted as the common criminals they are. Will he not therefore take this opportunity to express his dismay at the fact that meticulous cases taken to court by the prosecuting authorities may be stopped because such people cannot be tried, because in turn they cannot be represented, because in turn there is insufficient legal aid? If the Attorney-General wished to have my support in his meeting with the Lord Chancellor to explain the rule of law, I would be very happy to help him.

As the specific case to which the hon. Lady refers is before the Court of Appeal and, therefore, sub judice, I will not comment on it. On the general point that she makes, I certainly agree that it is clearly in the public interest that alleged serious crime should be prosecuted. We will have to await the outcome of the case to see whether the resources that are made available in this instance are satisfactory.