The Serious Fraud Office is ‘significantly behind’ in its processing of digital material and needs to rethink its approach to resourcing, an official report has said.

An inspection by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that a ‘key blockage’ in SFO case progression was the time it took for staff to sift through digital material.

It said: ‘The digital forensic unit is significantly behind in its processing of the digital material the case teams need to investigate. Resourcing inevitably plays a part in this. The SFO has carried out significant work to address the concerns with regard to processing the backlog of digital material but suffers from the same issues that face many in the criminal justice system with the increases in digital material.’

It added that the SFO ‘needs to develop a strategic approach to resourcing and case management; inspectors were of the opinion that the strategic and tactical co-ordination group could be used to fill this void’.

Lloyd Firth, senior associate in international firm WilmerHale’s UK white collar defence and investigations practice, said the SFO needed to hire more staff. ‘With the recent massive rise in the volume of digital evidence and the complex encryption of much of that data, the timely capture, processing and review of this potential evidence will inevitably require a material increase in technical resource and staffing levels within the DFU.

’The SFO will take no comfort from the fact that such concerns around dealing with digital evidence are not unique to it, and blight much of the UK’s criminal justice system.’

HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty, said: ‘There are undoubtedly ways the SFO can improve but, for the most part, it already has in place the frameworks within which the necessary improvements can be achieved. It would be wrong to read this report negatively and from the view that the SFO is ineffective: it is not.’