Lawyers believe today’s shock election result is likely to derail Theresa May’s plan to merge the Serious Fraud Office with the National Crime Agency.
May’s slender majority, underpinned by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, will put some of her manifesto pledges, including plans to merge the SFO with the relatively new NCA, under threat.
Barry Vitou, partner and head of global corporate crime at international firm Pinsent Masons, said: ‘With her authority now seriously dented it is unlikely that Theresa May’s pet plan for the SFO will now be carried through. The SFO is set to stay.’
David Corker, partner at criminal defence firm Corker Binning, said the result ‘has surely sunk any chance of May’s ill-starred proposal’.
May has been floating the idea of abolishing the SFO since serving as home secretary. The office was set up in 1987 to fight white-collar crime while the NCA was created only in 2013, and tackles other forms of crime including trafficking and cyber attacks.
At the time of the manifesto pledge solicitors told the Gazette that ‘pulling the rug’ from underneath the SFO made no sense at a time when it was achieving some notable successes.
Vitou added: ‘The SFO’s political independence is very important as it helps ensure that it will pursue cases even if that risks embarrassing the government or UK PLC. Operationally it is a much improved outfit and a period of immense change and restructuring could jeopardise those improvements.’
However, Alison Geary, counsel at international firm WilmerHale, said that without a majority and a Brexit deal to negotiate it was 'unlikely that reforms to the SFO are going to be top of the agenda'.
She added: 'It may also be dependent on how long Theresa May stays in post. Reform of the SFO has been on her agenda since she was home secretary.'