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SFO historical background and powers

The Roskill report

During the 1970s and early 1980s, there was considerable public dissatisfaction with the UK system for investigating and prosecuting serious or complex fraud.

The Government established the independent Fraud Trials Committee in 1983. Chaired by Lord Roskill, it considered the introduction of more effective means of fighting fraud through changes to the law and to criminal proceedings.

The ‘Roskill Report’ (Fraud Trials Committee Report) was published in 1986.

Its main recommendation was to set up a new organisation responsible for the detection, investigation and prosecution of serious fraud cases. The organisational structure it proposed, in which investigators and prosecutors work together from the start of a case, is called the Roskill model and is the structure adopted for the SFO.

The Criminal Justice Act 1987

The Criminal Justice Act 1987 (CJA) gave effect to the recommendations in the Fraud Trials Committee report. It created the Serious Fraud Office and its primary investigative tools, often referred to as “Section 2 powers”.

These include the powers to search property and require persons to answer questions and produce documents. Written notice is always given when exercising these powers. Notices are typically issued to individuals, banks, financial institutions, accountants and other professionals, most of whom will have a duty of confidence to their clients. Issuing them with Section 2 notices obliges them lawfully to give us the information we require.

On 14 July 2008, Section 2A of the CJA 1987 came into force enabling the Director of the SFO to use Section 2 powers before a formal investigation has begun in relation to overseas bribery and corruption cases.

Otherwise, the SFO can only use these powers once a case has been formally accepted for investigation.

Where a person or entity does not comply with a notice, or when someone is interviewed and is found to have given false or misleading information, they can be prosecuted.

Historical information on the Serious Fraud Office

The SFO was established in 1988. Its directors have been:

1988 – 1990 John Wood
1990 – 1992 Barbara Mills
1992 – 1997 George Staple
1997 – 2002 Rosalind Wright
2002 – 2008 Robert Wardle
2008 – 2012 Richard Alderman
2012 – 2018 David Green CB QC
2018 – 2018 Mark Thompson (Interim)
Current Lisa Osofsky

Historic annual reports can be found on our archived websites.