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Jessica De Grazia and the review of the SFO

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Photograph of Jessica De Grazia Jessica De Grazia

The SFO Director and the Attorney General have appointed former senior New York City prosecutor Jessica de Grazia to conduct a wide-ranging review of the way the SFO approaches its cases.

de Grazia has been asked to analyse and report on the laws, systems, processes and culture that direct the prosecution of SFO cases, from initial complaint through to the jury's verdict: "We want to see if lessons can be learned by comparing the UK experience with other, similar jurisdictions. It is best to compare apples with apples so we are starting with New York State and the U.S. federal system. The UK and US legal systems are both adversarial - rather than inquisitorial, as is common in the rest of Europe - and both are rooted in the common law. London and New York are also similar economic centres in that they are politically very important, nationally and internationally, and they are both global financial centres. We also wanted to look at more than one comparable jurisdiction; in focusing on New York we get to consider two at once - the state and the federal - and there are significant differences between them."

Married to an Englishman since 1973 and with two children raised in the UK and now attending English universities, de Grazia founded her specialist international investigations firm Interroin London in 2000. Throughout Europe and the Middle East she works with blue-chip corporations and government agencies, among them the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS): "I have been assisting the CPS in developing a 'proactive prosecution culture'; in other words, one that is better at deciding which cases merit prosecution, where to focus investigative resources, how to develop the best case, and then how to present it in a fashion that is most likely to result in a conviction."

de Grazia's credentials for the SFO review are exceptional. She has held a number of very senior positions in the New York District Attorney's Office. As chief assistant district attorney, Manhattan's highest non-elected law officer, she oversaw 400 lawyers and 700 support staff, among them a large team of dedicated fraud investigators and prosecutors. She also led the Operation Trinity Task Force whose effectiveness in investigating and prosecuting drugs-related homicides among New York's most dangerous organised-crime gangs led, at the peak of its success, to 12 successful murder prosecutions in a single year.

"We want to see if lessons can be learned by comparing the UK experience with other, similar jurisdictions"

Because de Grazia not only oversaw complex investigations, interviewing witnesses and presenting them to the Grand Jury, but also acted as trial advocate (broadly the equivalent of a QC), she has a tremendously detailed understanding of the full functioning of a highly-effective public prosecution system. It is this broad senior experience that has made her insights and analyses so valuable to the UK prosecution services: "Working one's way up through the ranks in the DA's office you come to understand fully what makes a good prosecutor's office. Because you have experienced how everything fits together, there are no mysteries."

Photograph of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge

de Grazia expects to deliver her report early in 2008. In the meantime she will be talking to prosecutors, investigators and support staff across the organisation, exploring the genesis, conduct and outcome of key cases. An important feature of the review will be to look closely at those cases which the two jurisdictions have in common: "We are looking at a range of cases but particularly those which are joint investigations and/or trials between the UK and the US. With offences common to both jurisdictions we can make clear and precise comparisons of how the investigations, prosecutions and convictions have proceeded in each jurisdiction, and then consider what effect any differences have had on the progress and/or outcome of the case."

As the Izodia case study illustrates, acquiring evidential statements from 'busy' international businessmen can be a frustratingly slow matter for SFO prosecutors. Similarly, it is not uncommon for SFO case teams to invest heavily in preparing their cases to trial standard only for the defendant to plead guilty at the last possible second. In these and other procedural matters de Grazia makes no secret of her view that the US system is the more efficient: "The New York Grand Jury system is demanding - witnesses cannot avoid their public responsibilities to provide truthful and complete evidence in a timely fashion - but there are protections too. Prosecutors can compel testimony but in return the witness is granted immunity from prosecution for any crime related to that testimony and the proceedings are secret. Nor does witness testimony or witness information have to be reduced to evidential statements before trial; in the UK this is a very cumbersome, time- consuming and costly requirement. Nor does a case have to be prepared to a trial standard before, or even after, the filing of the indictment; that only happens when it is clear that the defendants will not plead guilty and the case will definitely go to trial. This saves substantial resources, which are then converted into other investigations."

Her familiarity with the criminal justice systems on both sides of the Atlantic seems only to have increased her respect for the public prosecutors and investigators working within the English system: "My first impressions of the SFO are that there are a lot of good people working in a system that can make life very difficult for prosecutors - the growing complexity of the rules on evidential statements and disclosure are cases in point. It's testimony to their character that morale remains so high."

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