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SFO operations to be subject to 'routine' inspection

The Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (CPSI) is to "shortly" begin a review of the operations of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), a spokesperson for the Government's top legal advisors has said.15 Feb 2012

The review could begin "within days" and would be the "first time" that the SFO has been subject to such scrutiny, the spokesperson from the Attorney General's Office (AGO) said. The SFO has the power to investigate and prosecute individuals for corrupt or fraudulent activity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The SFO's Director, Richard Alderman, agreed to the inspection to take place following a request from Attorney General Dominic Grieve and Edward Garnier, the Solicitor General, the AGO spokesperson said.  They agreed that the review would be "useful" particularly in light of the fact that Alderman is due to be replaced in his post in April, she said.

"There is no statutory requirement for the SFO to be inspected but it can be, by invitation, and HM Inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service has been invited to carry this out. Inspections are routine for many criminal justice agencies; independent inspections are good practice. The report of the inspection will be made to the Law Officers. We expect the process to start shortly and conclude later in the spring," the AGO spokesperson said.

Barry Vitou, expert in anti-corruption law at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the SFO had been subject to a much bigger review in the past.

"While a review of the SFO of this type has not been undertaken before it is not the first time it has been subject to a review. A much bigger review into the way the SFO conducted its case work was previously conducted by US prosecutor Jessica de Grazia and published in 2008. That review made several recommendations which the SFO has subsequently largely been implementing. Pinsent Masons, like other professionals that have dealings with the SFO, has been asked to contribute to the current review process by SFO Director Richard Alderman," Vitou said.

The SFO declined to comment on the inspection other than to say that CPSI had been asked to "review the SFO’s casework as well as some broader issues such as our processes for accepting cases".

The CPSI is an independent body set up to review "the effectiveness and efficiency" of the CPS, the main criminal prosecutors in England and Wales, under the Crown Prosecution Service Act. It also has statutory responsibility to inspect the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Authority under the Police and Justice Act as well as the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice Northern Ireland under the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act.

The Attorney General can ask CPSI to inspect other bodies if those bodies consent to such an inspection taking place.

In December the AGO confirmed that a Cabinet Office probe into alleged wrongdoing at the SFO had revealed no evidence, according to a report by news agency Bloomberg.

“Allegations of improper conduct within the SFO were made by members of staff. These did not concern casework or prosecuting decisions,” an AGO spokeswoman said at the time, according to the Bloomberg report.

The alleged wrongdoing had been flagged up by an "internal whistleblower" and the AGO's investigation had looked into "corporate-governance issues" relating to senior officials at the SFO, including its chief executive Phillippa Williamson, the report said.