It is, unbelievably, 5 years since the then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, told a shocked House of Commons that he was referring to the Serious Fraud Office the conduct of G4S and SERCO in billing government for £200m of work (on electronic motioning of offenders) which they did not do.
And we are still waiting – the best part of 2,000 days later – for a decision by the SFO on whether to prosecute.
“Justice delayed is justice denied' is an ancient maxim.
This delay is outrageous.
First, the public interest is not being served. For five years, we have not known whether or not two companies whose contracts cover a massive range of public services, and to whom billions of public money are paid each year, are to be charged with criminally defrauding the public purse. And meanwhile, they get further contracts.
Second, it is oppressive. There must be people at the centre of this who have been under investigation, under threat of prosecution, for five full years – with all the consequences of that in terms of stress, difficulty in getting employment and so on. Not just them, but their families.
Third, it threatens to defeat the interests of justice. At some point, delay of many years must affect the chances of a successful prosecution, if such is the outcome – memories fade of key events and discussions, and at this rate, witnesses may well die of old age before the SFO wakes from its slumbers.
The delay is unfathomable. The case lacks every dimension of complexity one can think of – multiple victims (only one); multiple jurisdictions (only |England and Wales); multiple contracts (two); intricate company structures (two); miscreants on the run (none known). In fact, the one victim, the Ministry of Justice, stated publicly that it had no information to show dishonesty on the part of either company.
So how can it possibly take 5 years, not to complete a trial, not even to start a trial , but to merely decide whether or not to hold a trial?
Perhaps savage cuts in the SFOs budget are to blame? Hardly: its Resource DEL last year was slightly above that for 2010-11.
It seems simply that the SFO doesn't think 5 years is a long time. [20/7: just received a FoI response which says, incredibly, that nearly one third of current SFO inquiries have been on the go more than five years. What do they do there?]
SERCO and G4S were the scandal. Now, the scandal is the SFO.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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