Thursday 14 March 2019 12:21 am

House of Lords Committee slams fraud office for slow pace of bribery investigations

A House of Lords Committee today criticised the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for the slow pace of bribery investigations.

In a report on the Bribery Act 2010 published today, the Committee said: “The slow pace of investigations, and in particular the failure to update companies on their progress, is a matter of concern to us…The evidence we have received suggests that there are excessive delays even in the majority of more straightforward domestic bribery investigations.”

The Committee called on the SFO and CPS to do “everything in their power” to ensure cases progress as quickly as possible.

Read more: Former head of public prosecutions barred from dealing with CPS and SFO

It called for the director of the SFO Lisa Osofsky and the director of public prosecutions Max Hill QC to outline how they will speed up investigations and communicate better with those being investigated.

Committee chair Lord Saville of Newdigate said “we were troubled by this” and called for prosecuting bodies to “do better”.

The report quoted evidence from law firm Baker McKenzie which said the average SFO bribery investigation takes four-and-a-half years while law firm Clifford Chance said they could take five or six years to conclude.

The committee heard evidence that some of those under investigation had not received any updates on their case for 18 months, while property seized by the SFO could take well over a year to be returned.

Read more: Serious Fraud Office drops probes into Rolls-Royce and GSK

An SFO spokesperson said: “As our director has made clear, we are taking steps to improve the pace of our investigations, including pioneering the use of artificial intelligence tools in UK law enforcement.

“However, successfully prosecuting complex crime requires careful consideration of the evidence, which does take time.”

A CPS spokesperson said: "Bribery cases are often incredibly complex and involve large amounts of material and digital data. Investigations are resource intensive, especially where there is an international element and this, along with issues around the availability of evidence, can lead to delays.

“We have an established and dedicated specialist fraud division and will work with partners to make sure this work is carried out as quickly and efficiently as possible. We will consider the report carefully and respond in due course.”

Overall the report on the 2010 act was positive with the Committee describing it as “an exemplary piece of legislation” and saying that it “creates offences which are clear and all-embracing”.