Juries not necessary, says new SFO head

Juries in fraud cases do not bring about justice, according to the next director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Rosalind Wright.

“If you really want to see justice done, I don't think juries in fraud are the way to achieve it.” she told The Lawyer in one of the most outspoken criticisms so far of juries by a senior prosecutor.

Wright, currently head of prosecutions at the Securities and Futures Authority (SFA), added: “Although one never knows, I suspect the result you get is not really representative of the jury having returned a verdict on the basis of the evidence.”

She said a professional panel would be more likely to bring about justice, although she said her experience at the SFA – where such panels are used – showed that they were not necessarily more likely to produce convictions.

The current SFO director George Staple, who steps down in April, has also proposed replacing juries with professional judges in complex fraud cases.

Wright said that if juries were kept, there ought to be a minimum qualification for jurors, such as having obtained certain grades at GCSE.

She also said she wanted to see more use of the charge of theft in fraud cases. “It simplifies things and concentrates the jury on the simple issue of whether or not money was taken. There are too many bits of legislation that can be used in fraud, such as obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception.

“It's tempting for a prosecutor to try and find the one that most meets the circumstances but some offences are too difficult for the jury to understand.”