The Bribery Act 2010 of the Westminster parliament should have brought about an increase in the activity of the Serious Fraud Office particularly in view of the strict liability offence of commercial bribery under Section 7 of the Act. (A statutory defense of adequate procedures being in place to prevent bribery is though available.) This increase in activity is unlikely to come about bearing in mind that the UK Government has reduced the budget of the SFO from £50 million in the year 2008/2009 to under £30 million for the coming financial year a reduction of some 38%.

A lack of sufficient and acceptable funding for the SFO was highlighted in July this year when, as a result of political pressure, the SFO was forced to reopen its files into the alleged rigging of inter-bank lending rates. The previous director of the SFO, Richard Alderman, declined to commence an investigation into the matter in mid 2011 partly upon the basis that there was insufficient funding available and partly on the basis that he felt that the investigation would duplicate the work being undertaken by the Financial Services Authority and the Office of Fair Trading.

George Osborne’s team has now promised sufficient resources for the SFO to undertake this investigation, however this is not to be in the form of a blank cheque, but the SFO will have to report on a regular basis to the Treasury on the progress of the investigation and its likely cash needs.

Comment upon the financial resources available to the SFO was made by Sir John Thomas, President of the Queen’s Bench Division on behalf of the Divisional Court in Tchenguiz – v – Serious Fraud Office [2012] EWHC 2254 (Admin)  when he said  “The investigation and prosecution of serious fraud in the financial markets requires proper resources, both human and financial. It is quite clear that the SFO did not have such resources in the present case.”

Robert Fischel QC