The Roskill Committee recommended a unified fraud investigation and prosecution agency, but Rosalind Wright says the SFO never aspired to entirely fulfil Roskill's visions. Rosalind Wright is director of the SFO.
The Serious Fraud Office was created by the Criminal Justice Act 1987 – itself the product of the recommendations of the Roskill Committee, which reported in 1986.
Roskill's recommendation was for a unified fraud investigation and prosecution agency which would undertake the most serious and complex cases then undertaken by a variety of agencies, including the CPS Fraud Investigation Group (FIG), the DTI and other government departments.
The SFO has never aspired to fulfil entirely the Roskill ideal. When it was set up, it took over some 20 cases, then dealt with by FIG; it currently has some 82 cases under investigation or going through the trial process. However, it remains the case that most sizeable fraud cases in England and Wales are investigated by the police and prosecuted by the CPS.
The function of the SFO is to investigate and prosecute cases of serious or complex fraud. The criteria for acceptance of a case for investigation by the SFO include the following:
the need to use section 2 Criminal Justice Act powers, which enable the SFO to obtain by means of compulsion information and documents for use in an investigation;
a significant international dimension;
the likelihood of widespread public concern;
the need for highly specialised market or other commercial knowledge; and
whether the sum at risk exceeds £1m.
This restriction on the type of cases undertaken by the SFO imposes a natural limit on the number accepted for investigation and prosecution. A further limitation is imposed by our resources which are constrained by our budget.
The cases which fall outside our criteria or which, by reason of resource constraint, we are unable to accept, fall naturally to be investigated by other agencies – in effect, the police who refer suitable cases for consideration for prosecution to the CPS. The CPS is well qualified to undertake difficult cases and frequently does so and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
The SFO is achieving its aim of investigating and prosecuting the cases it undertakes with great effectiveness. It does so because it is comparatively small and focused. It has the benefit of lawyers, accountants and support staff of very great experience and expertise in commercial fraud cases. They have accomplished the difficult task of marshalling the facts and law in some of the most difficult cases ever to come before the courts and to enable the courts to conduct a manageable trial of the issues.
As director of the SFO, I do not seek to dilute that expertise by pressing for a widening of the SFO's brief. I have no intention of undertaking any more cases than our resources can withstand. I do not envisage any enlarged, all-embracing fraud investigating and prosecuting role for the SFO on top of what it is already able to do, and to do most ably.
"Super-SFO" is not on the agenda. A continued, effective and efficient focused investigation and prosecution organisation, which is the SFO, is the way I see ahead.