Getting serious with fraud in the UK

An interview with Robert Wardle, Director of the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office

By Dick Carozza

Robert Wardle, director of the UK's Serious Fraud Office, tackles not only the toughest cases but lengthy trials and mounds of evidence. A veteran of the SFO, he juggles it with aplomb. 

Robert Wardle's success often places him in a quandary. The UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO), which he directs, tackles only the most complex and difficult cases. And since the Office's inception in 1988, it enjoys an 84 percent conviction rate. But those cases often guarantee lengthy trials, expensive costs, and sometimes confused juries. Wardle is determined to solve that problem and bring the worst UK fraudsters to trial.

"There is a real risk that (the SFO cases) become unmanageable because of the amount of evidence we are forced to bring," Wardle said in a recent interview with Fraud Magazine. "We need to look at ways of reducing their length and focusing on the real issues," he said. Electronic presentation of evidence in court simplifies and speeds up trials, he said, and some cases should be tried without juries. "There will be some cases which simply are too burdensome for a jury," he said. "Too often we have seen relevant evidence excluded in order to make a case manageable and that is unfair."

Wardle has seen hundreds of serious fraud cases - manageable and otherwise. He began working at the SFO when it was first established under the UK's Criminal Justice Act of 1987. Wardle, a solicitor, began as a case controller and worked his way up to assistant director in 1992. From 1996 to 2000 he was head of the policy division with responsibility for liaison with Whitehall (center for governmental departments), regulators, the legal professions and the police, and for dealing with all policy matters including proposed legislation. In October of 2000, he moved to an operational division with overall responsibility for about 30 cases and for vetting cases referred to the SFO. He was appointed SFO director in December of 2002 and assumed office in April of 2003.

Wardle spoke to Fraud Magazine from his office in London.

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