Jayne Smith

+44 (0)1733 887878 jsmith@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Kathryn Gilbertson

+44 (0)1733 887621 kgilbertson@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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Criminal Prosecutions – why do they take so long?

Regulatory / 02 August 2017

Why does it take so long for a prosecution to be brought? Legal expert Jayne explains what’s going on behind the scenes.

There is no time limit for commencing a prosecution.

As a guideline the HSE aims to conclude their investigation within a year.  This is not however always achievable and more recently the HSE has disclosed that it can take up to 3 years.

What’s going on behind the scenes?

After conducting an investigation into a suspected breach, the enforcing authority then needs to consider whether a formal criminal prosecution should be brought.

When doing this the enforcing authority will be bound by the Code for Crown Prosecutors which contains a two stage test:

  • The evidential stage – is there “sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction “.
  • The public interest test – would it be in the public interest to prosecute the matter.  The more serious the matter the less persuasive the public interest factors will be.

Can the Court place pressure on an enforcing authority to make a decision?

Recently the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has successfully resisted an application by Soma Oil and Gas Holdings Limited, a company under investigation, aimed at bringing the SFO investigation to an end.

In June 2015 the SFO commenced an investigation into whether Soma committed bribery and corruption offences in connection with oil exploration activities it conducted in Somalia.  Soma perceived that the investigation was dragging on and so in August 2016 some 14 months later, commenced proceedings for judicial review against the SFO.

Soma sought an order to the effect that the SFO must terminate its investigation into Soma and/or provide a clear indication that such investigation will be subject to no further action.

The Court held :

  • This case did not warrant the court’s intervention, there was no undue delay – however frustrating it was for Soma.
  • It was for the SFO to reach a conclusion not the court.


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This update is for general purposes and guidance only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. You should seek legal advice before relying on its content. This update relates to the prevailing circumstances at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments. If you have general queries about our updates, please email: mailinglists@greenwoodsgrm.co.uk

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