No evidence offered in G4S prosecution.
13 March 2023
On 10 March 2023, the SFO offered no evidence against 3 former directors and managers of G4S Care & Justice, responsible for the administration of the electronic monitoring contract with the Ministry of Justice. The SFO’s decision led to the acquittal of the defendants on each of 7 counts of fraud at the direction of the judge and raises both principled and practical concerns for the Director.
Following earlier high profile failures such as Tesco, Sarclad (also known as XYZ), Guralp Systems and Serco, among others, the case continues a troubling pattern of the SFO agreeing Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) with corporate defendants but then seeing their prosecution of individuals collapse. The revenue generated from DPAs is no doubt attractive, but this growing history suggests that a re-assessment is needed of whether agreements about the ‘facts’, reached with corporate defendants who may be motivated by many competing interests, can form a reliable basis for identifying a case that can fairly and safely be brought against an individual.
On a more practical level, the G4S case raises the very serious question whether the SFO has the ability, as currently resourced, to cope with investigations of this type fairly and within a reasonable time frame. Although the SFO’s investigation began in 2013, charges were not brought until the summer of 2020. Even then the SFO were forced, in October 2021, to seek a 12 month adjournment of the original January 2022 trial date to enable them to conclude the disclosure exercise. A lack of sufficient resource within the case team, combined with the need to have conducted a substantial Quality Assurance exercise in respect of the disclosure process due to the collapse of the Serco trial, were cited as significant factors that necessitated that application.
Despite the additional time and taking the unprecedented step of outsourcing substantial elements of its disclosure exercise to an external company to bridge its resource gap, the beleaguered SFO repeatedly failed to meet court orders and its exercise was not complete by the adjourned trial date of January 2023. By March 2023 the court was informed that the disclosure exercise would still “take many more months to complete”. Counsel for the SFO had previously stated that in addition to manpower, part of the difficulty came from the fact that the SFO's IT system was “not new and [..] not modern”.
The SFO’s inability to bring a case to trial safely, nearly 10 years into its investigation, has benefited neither the public nor the defendants. It suggests that the current level of funding and resource is simply insufficient to allow the SFO to live up to its self-described role as “a specialist prosecuting authority tackling the top level of serious or complex fraud”.
Neil Hawes KC and Roderick James of Crucible represented Mark Preston, a former Commercial Director within G4S Care & Justice. They were instructed by Jason Cropper and Angela Craven of TLT LLP.