Fraud Focus: Is the Serious Fraud Office fit for purpose?



  • The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) performs the important tasks of investigating and prosecuting serious and complex fraud in England and Wales.

  • Since its creation in 1988 its record of successful prosecutions has been unsatisfactory.

  • It has been markedly mistake-prone and there have been too many instances of inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour.

  • The appropriateness of its use of ‘deferred prosecution agreements’ (DPAs) as an alternative to prosecution needs careful scrutiny.

  • Part of the explanation of the SFO’s poor performance lies in the unavoidable complexity of the cases it has to handle, and various reforms to law or procedure should be considered.

  • The inappropriate behaviour that has occurred is unacceptable and appears to require a change of culture, and therefore, perhaps, a broad institutional reorganisation.

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Dr James Forder is Academic and Research Director at the IEA. He has taught economics and sometimes politics at Oxford University since 1993 and is Andrew Graham Fellow and Tutor in Political Economy at Balliol College. His principal research interests have been in central bank independence, and the history of macroeconomics ideas, including especially those following from the work of A W H Phillips; and the work of Milton Friedman. He has also written on the merits of the first past the post electoral system. He believes that public policy could be enormously improved by greater recognition of the power and utility of price mechanisms, as compared to regulatory controls such as prohibitions, licensing rules, and obligations on public bodies to pursue specific quantitative outcomes.