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Response to HMCPSI Case Progression Review – October 2019

On 8 October 2019 Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Inspectorate (HMCPSI) published a report on case progression at the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

The inspection focussed on case progression systems and processes between case acceptance and charge.

The SFO welcomed the findings of the inspection, which recognised that the SFO deals with very complex cases involving huge amounts of data and often extensive international cooperation. The SFO was pleased that the Inspectorate noted we had clear and well documented internal casework processes. The Inspectorate also highlighted further positive aspects of SFO work, which they identified during their inspection:

  • our engagement with partners and stakeholders;
  • the SFO’s greater commitment to victims and witnesses, in particular setting clearer expectations leading to improved communications; and,
  • the opportunities for training and development on offer at the SFO.

The inspectors identified areas that would benefit from improvement and made seven recommendations:

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should develop a resourcing model that takes into account staff skills and time available to progress cases effectively.

The SFO accepts this recommendation. The SFO aims to recruit a new cadre of permanent paralegals to reduce the number of temporary document reviewers and provide a route to permanent employment and development for temporary workers. The SFO has re-established the Resourcing Steering Group to ensure a strategic and consistent approach to workforce planning, resourcing and recruitment.

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should review resourcing in a holistic manner to ensure equity across cases in allocation of the teams and skills and reconsider allocation of the case controller and team when it becomes apparent that cases are not being taken forward promptly after acceptance.

The SFO partly accepts this recommendation. The SFO is constantly reviewing resource allocation to balance skills and priorities against case needs.  Recommendation 2 however contains the recommendation that the SFO reconsider allocation of a case controller and case team when cases are not being taken forward promptly. The SFO does not accept this aspect of the recommendation as there are existing processes such as case assurance and performance management that are available to address case progression.

The SFO aims to implement a staff rotation policy, providing the opportunity for operational staff to improve the breadth and depth of experience and promoting personal development.

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should review resourcing across divisions to ensure that resources are allocated according to case needs, and in such a way that when changes are required, there is as little disruption as possible to case progression.

The SFO accepts this recommendation. The SFO has rebalanced the allocation of resources across the casework divisions and the Resourcing Steering Group will oversee the future allocation of resource according to business needs and in line with our staff rotation policy.

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should be clear about the use of independent counsel, including guidance for case controllers on their deployment and monitoring, and a mechanism for evaluating the value for money they provide.

The SFO accepts this recommendation. General Counsel has coordinated creation of new guidance on engaging independent Counsel. A new process has been put in place to monitor the ongoing performance of Counsel and assessing value for money. The SFO will seek to refresh the Counsel Panel List to meet the increasing demands of our casework and provide us with a broader list of practitioners.

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should develop understanding across the casework divisions of the impact of seizures on the digital forensic unit, and the need to be proportionate in their demands and expectations of this unit. This should be accompanied by measures to significantly reduce the impact of current delays on case progression.

The SFO accepts this recommendation. A digital strategy is now a pre-condition for all operational deployments where data and devices will be acquired through a search warrant,  Section 2 ‘Here & Now’ Notices or other means.

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should consider how it can improve the focus and delivery of training to support case progression. The Serious Fraud Office needs to develop a programme of learning and development that delivers the core skills for effective case progression.

The SFO accepts this recommendation. The SFO has implemented a monthly bulletin to collect and publicise new innovative ways of working and best practice guidelines drawn from case learning.  A similar publication on recent case law developments for non–lawyers is also being produced. A new investigation strategy template has been rolled out and training has been provided. The investigation strategies are reviewed and considered at Case Review Panel meetings. The SFO has introduced two training programmes: Leading Complex Investigations, which is a course designed to develop existing skills so case teams can manage and co-ordinate major investigations; and, The Investigator Training Programme, which is designed to equip staff with the essential skills and professional knowledge to conduct investigations into economic crime expeditiously.

  1. Heads of Division should set and monitor key milestones in the investigation and prosecution of cases, and should enforce compliance with the operational handbook.

The SFO accepts this recommendation. General Counsel and the Chief Operating Officer actively monitor case progression at each Case Review Panel. In addition, Heads of casework Divisions, with the assistance of Principal Divisional Investigators, actively review cases using the Casework Assurance Framework. They also ensure as part of the review that cases are progressing at pace and in accordance with Operational Handbook instructions.

The inspectorate also identified two issues to address:

  1. When implementing a new electronic case management system, the Serious Fraud Office should consider how the intelligence division can use or readily transfer relevant information to the system so as to maximise the quality of information delivered to case teams in the handover.

The SFO’s Document and Case Management System project team have undertaken a series of workshops with the Intelligence Division to determine the requirements, ways of working and improvements to support effective transfer of material from Intelligence to the case teams.

  1. The Serious Fraud Office should identify key milestones and measures of case progression and preparation, develop them into performance data, and use them to identify and challenge delays in cases.

The SFO’s new annual Business Plan has been published and a new set of key performance indicators are being designed to measure progress. A new strategic performance dashboard is in development to cover Performance and Outcomes, Finance, Health and the Workforce. A monthly dashboard is produced for the Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel to support their monitoring of case progression.