For there to be a meaningful fight against fraud there needs to be a legal system capable of dealing with the cases brought by the prosecution authorities. There is no point beefing up the police fraud squads and giving them resources (which should include adequate funding for forensic accountants) to investigate fraudulent activity if the cases are going to falter at court.
Why would they do that? If a criminal trial is not managed properly and proportionately it will either fail completely leading to a re-trial or an appeal. This happens a lot and is the biggest reason why costs of dealing with criminals in general are so high.
The Legal Services Commission comes under fire a lot – not just from this blog site! The Daily Mail yesterday (2nd February 2009) reported the gross waste of public funds by the LSC. Audits have revealed that they have paid some £25 million too much to criminal defence lawyers over the year. If a public auditor is able to uncover £25 million wasted out of a budget of £2 billion per anum then just think how much a proper fraud investigator would find!
This may sound a bit of a sweeping statement, and is based purely on anecdotal evidence. But do not forget that as a forensic accountant I not only get paid for a lot of my work by the Legal Services Commission but also deal very closely with firms of solicitors and barristers that do also. Yes I do see some barristers getting paid £1 million each year from public funds, but I also struggle myself to receive ordinary market rates for my own work.
Sometimes I must argue my case with an LSC case worker that is questioning a quotation that I have submitted. Having done these sorts of jobs for over 15 years I usually have a good idea of how long they will take and what resources I will need to apply. It is not always easy to translate these ideas into a recipe for my costs and sometimes have to argue whether or not each of 10,000 documents will require 20 or 25 seconds to review! I know that I will need a week and a half or so but putting it into simple science is not always so easy.
Apparently since the 1980s spending by the LSC has multiplied 7 fold. Its not surprising – forget the published inflation figures – in 1983 we bought a house for a price that we would easily have to pay 12 times more for now. That aside, the past decade or so has seen the labour government increase the amount of legislation in place many times. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is only one example of many new laws that were introduced, were lengthy and ill conceived. They have led to substantially more work needed to be done by the Defence solicitors and barristers to prevent miscarriage of justice. I have assisted in some of this and know how much time can be wasted by the Crown.
I would rather be putting the fraudsters away any day, but am happy to present a truly interdependent stance within my Fraud Advisory Services work portfolio and act as expert accounting witness for the defense in white collar crime cases. Because the Crown tends not to prepare financial cases in a safe fashion, often by not utilizing forensic accountants, there is much scope for checking and representing the case by the defense. My work in this area is not intended to get the dguilty off, but ensure that their case is presented at an accurate level of severity so that the courts can award a just sentence. If the LSC continue to be criticized for waste and their budgets cut accordingly, who will be doing the essential fraud defence work to balance the system?