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Freshfields Risk & Compliance

| 2 minutes read

Rolls-Royce, Robots and the Risks of Brexit - the Serious Fraud Office’s 2016-17 Annual Report

The SFO’s annual report for 2016-17 was published yesterday.

Coming only a couple of months after the Conservative party’s controversial manifesto pledge (albeit one which did not feature in the recent Queen’s Speech) to fold the SFO into the National Crime Agency, the report takes an unsurprisingly robust tone, focussing on the increasing complexity of the cases the SFO is investigating and prosecuting and highlighting its successes over the past year – particularly in securing two further Deferred Prosecution Agreements (or DPAs) containing financial orders, in aggregate, of over £500 million.

David Green CB QC, the Director of the SFO, in his Director’s Statement, emphasises the role of the SFO in reducing the harm caused by high level economic crime, and in preserving the reputation of the UK as a safe place to do business. He also highlights the complexity of the cases the SFO is currently investigating and prosecuting, with the need for a multi-disciplinary approach, where investigators, lawyers, forensic accountants, IT experts and others work together.

Whilst much of the 72 pages of the report consists of the SFO’s accounts, pages 1 to 8 are worth reading for anyone with an interest in the SFO and its work, providing an overview of the SFO’s activity over the past year, with a particular focus on its key “stats” for the year, its increasing technological capability and its role in policy development in the anti-corruption sphere.

The section of the report addressing the SFO’s digital and technological capability will be of particular interest to practitioners in both the regulatory and litigation spheres, given the ever increasing volume of data required to be processed in the course of investigations and litigation, and the increasing demand from clients and the courts for technology-driven innovation and cost savings in document review exercises. Whilst it is perhaps unsurprising to hear that the SFO is dealing with cases with upwards of 30 million documents involved, it is interesting to read that its document review technology (or “robot”), developed with an external partner has, in the SFO’s words, “drastically” reduced its reliance on external counsel for privilege review, reportedly leading to savings of 80% on one aspect of the Rolls-Royce case.

Brexit is also clearly on David Green’s mind, with one of the SFO’s strategic risks as of 31 March 2017 being given as “a loss of access to EU measures and tools arising from Brexit leading to an adverse effect on investigations and prosecutions”. 

I’ll leave you with the SFO’s 2016-17 in numbers:

- 12 new criminal investigations opened this year, across a range of subject matter, from an alleged fraudulent investment scheme, to schemes directly targetting UK pension holders, to allegations of bribery and corruption.

- Approximately 70 active investigations.

- 48 requests from overseas partners for mutual assistance.

- 25 companies and individuals charged, in 8 cases.

- 33 defendants awaiting trial at the end of the year.

- Over 2 million documents processed each month, on average.

- 12 Proceeds of Crime Orders obtained, with a combined value of £25.3 million.

- 2 DPAs entered into this year in the amount of £497.3 million for Rolls-Royce PLC and £6.6 million for an unnamed UK SME.

- 13/15 defendants convicted in 7 cases, giving an 87% conviction rate by defendant, and by case 100%.

Click here to read the report: SFO Annual Report 2016-17


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