Meeting with the Director of the Serious Fraud Office: 31 January
The Serious Fraud Office is a specialist prosecuting authority tackling the top level of serious or complex fraud, bribery and corruption. They are part of the UK criminal justice system covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Serious Fraud Office both investigates and prosecutes their cases. They were set up that way because these kinds of cases are complicated and lawyers and investigators need to work together from the beginning.
Meeting Date: 31 January 2017
The Victims’ Commissioner (VC) met with the Director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to find out more about how the SFO were fulfilling their requirements under the Victims’ Code.
The SFO has two dedicated Witness Care Officers (WCO) who work alongside operational case teams and a recently recruited Witness Care Coordinator. Victims and witnesses are supported throughout an investigation, prosecution and preparation for trial.
The SFO has set out and published a set of Victim and Witness Standards, which include how investigators and prosecutors will communicate with victims and witnesses as well as a right to request a review of decisions to end formal investigations and prosecutions.
Victims and witnesses who are called to give evidence will always be supported by the WCOs. The team has a close working relationship with the Citizens’ Advice Witness Service Unit at Southwark Crown Court, where most serious fraud cases are sent for trial.
The SFO is working on a ‘Referral Pathway’ to ensure that all victims have access to support services should they require it (for example, advice on compensation). It is identifying relevant support services and will create a contact directory of organisations that are able to give victims of serious fraud the practical assistance and emotional support they require.
Around 25 per cent of the SFO caseload was investment fraud and this type of crime can have thousands of victims. In order to communicate effectively with large numbers of victims the SFO uses its website to pass on relevant and up to date information on the progress of a case.
The Director of the SFO discussed with the VC their aspiration to develop a needs-based risk assessment for each victim or witness which will follow the individual throughout the life of the case with the SFO. The SFO is also looking how best to monitor their performance against the Victims’ Code. The VC welcomed this and offered support and advice on what might be covered by such an assessment.
The Director was also committed to putting in place a formal complaints process and there was a discussion on who victims can approach, if not satisfied with the outcome of their complaint. Again the VC said she would be interested in seeing the process once this work is completed.
It was agreed that the VC and Director of the SFO would meet annually, but more often if there were issues of concern.