The SFO must be careful not to say anything that might compromise an ongoing investigation or a matter that is proceeding through the Court
The Serious Fraud Office aims to provide the public with information regarding the progress and outcome of investigations where doing so is consistent with our other obligations. A key vehicle to achieving this is via the release of information to the media. In particular, the SFO must be careful not to say anything that might compromise an ongoing investigation or a matter that is proceeding through the Court.
We take the following matters into account to assist us in deciding whether to release information and what level of detail should be provided:
- whether release of information is in the public interest – for example, to prevent further harm or alert the public to risks
- the level of detail required to ensure high levels of accuracy in reporting
- other information which is in the public arena – e.g. confirmation of a referral to the SFO by another agency
- investigations into the relevant matter by other organisations
- Solicitor-General's guidelines – Media Protocol for Prosecutors
The SFO will generally provide an official media release when:
- individuals or entities are charged with offences (unless name suppression is in place)
- if guilty pleas are entered
- verdicts are given
- sentences are handed down
Generally speaking, the SFO would not comment on an investigation until the point where charges (if any) are laid. This includes confirmation or comment on whether or not complaints have been received.
A statement that the SFO is investigating a person or entity can cause damage which cannot be remedied even where it is later decided that there is insufficient evidence to commence proceedings.
The SFO considers whether it is appropriate to make comment on a case by case basis. Exceptions to this approach include, for example, where it is plain that there is an issue which warrants investigation by the SFO, if information about the SFO’s involvement is already in the public arena, or if public cooperation is required.
Responses to Media
The Director is responsible for deciding the content of any responses to media. The management of media enquiries is performed by the Communications Manager. All media contact is logged and care is taken to limit comments to the matter at hand, not offer personal views or divulge any matter that is not included in the formal release of information. Preference is to provide responses in writing - this allows the journalist to receive a concise answer so that he/she can report accurately - especially as SFO cases are predominantly complex and sometimes difficult to explain.
We are always grateful that journalists understand the limits of our ability to share information where legal cases are concerned.
Any queries in respect to these guidelines should be directed in the first instance to the Director.