As the United Kingdom settles into the Bribery Act and enters the “facade” era of enforcement (see here for the prior post), it is difficult to reconcile the confusing and conflicting statements from Serious Fraud Office officials.
For instance, in this recent speech by Alun Milford (SFO General Counsel) titled “Corporate Criminal Liability and Deferred Prosecution Agreements” he states:
“Whatever the offence under investigation, there can be no prosecution unless the two stage test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors is met. First, there must be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. If there is not, then that is the end of the matter.”
This is inconsistent with what the SFO previously said when it rolled out its Code of Practice relevant to DPAs. In defending adoption of the “lower evidential test” in the Code of Practice and addressing concerns that this standard “was so easily satisfied as to have very little substance,” the SFO’s response was, in pertinent part, as follows.
“One of the principal purposes of DPAs is to bring a resolution to cases of corporate criminality more quickly. […] If a prosecutor had to be satisfied that the evidence against an organization was sufficient to meet the Full Code Test (“Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge”) without the alternative of the ‘lower’ evidential test before considering whether a DPA was in the public interest, a key purpose of DPAs, as was the express intention of parliament, would become redundant. In order to achieve one of parliament’s key intentions in legislating for the introduction of DPAs a ‘lower’ evidential test is necessary.”
“Satisfaction of the Full Code Test, particularly in view of the well documented difficulties in proving corporate liability, would in most circumstances require a complete an full scale investigation, sometimes spanning many jurisdictions, which inevitably is time consuming and expensive. It is not intended for there to be such an investigation before a DPA is entered into.”
It is also difficult to square the above previous SFO statement – “it is not intended for there to be such a [full scale] investigation before a DPA is entered into” with the following statement from Milford’s recent speech regarding self-reporting:
“It is clear that we cannot accept such [self] reports at face value, especially where the company denies any wrongdoing on its part. [Note: Query why a company would self-report if it denies any wrongdoing on its part – but that is separate issue]
Even in the case of a self-report, we will need to conduct our own, independent investigation into the extent of the wrongdoing not least because, if on initial review the case seemed right in principle for a DPA disposal, we would need to satisfy ourselves and possibly also a judge that the extent of what was reported was accurate. If, on embarking on our investigation, we find evidence trails disturbed, witnesses tipped off and their first accounts denied us, then we will find it hard to regard the company’s conduct in the preparation of the report as anything other than unhelpful, not least as we will in all probability have identified key individuals within the company as suspects who we might wish to prosecute.”
When law enforcement agencies create alternate realities with different standards and procedures – none of which have historical grounding in rule of law principles – the end result is confusing and conflicting policy statements.
That is exactly what is occurring at the present as the U.K. prepares to enter the “facade” era.