Sunday 28 July 2019 5:37 pm

SFO cuts spending on lawyers as conviction rate falls

The serious fraud office’s (SFO) spending on staff and external counsel fell last year, while its conviction rate crumbled to just over 53 per cent.

The figures, released in the SFO’s annual report, show spending on staff fell 2.4 per cent to £30.6m last year, with spending on external counsel dropping 5.7 per cent to £10.6m. 

Only 17 of 32 defendants in SFO cases were convicted, a rate of just 53 per cent, down from 77 per cent the previous year. 

Read more: SFO drops probe into how it handled ENRC investigation

Lisa Osofsky, who took over as head of the SFO in August, said the office’s conviction rate can “vary significantly” due to its caseload, which consists of “a relatively small number of large cases”. The office’s average conviction rate across the past four years was 60 per cent.

The report comes shortly after the release of a leadership review of SFO by the crown prosecution service inspectorate, which found that  “that the sharp focus on delivery of casework” has “driven a culture of delivery which has, in many instances, led to tolerance of neglectful approaches to management or, in some cases, of unacceptable behaviours.”

The SFO has been under scrutiny recently following the failures of several high profile cases.  In December, the trial of eight former Tesco executives collapsed after the SFO was unable to prove that the defendants had been aware of fraud within the company’s accounts.