Bail may get harder: Defendants who have 'connections abroad' may be refused

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The Independent Online
THE COURTS are likely to look more critically in future at giving bail when defendants have connections abroad, George Staple, head of the Serious Fraud Office, said yesterday.

In certain cases where 'the alternative is that somebody is going to abscond' it might be necessary to refuse bail even if it were a question of up to two years in custody, he said.

Defending the SFO's role in the case of Asil Nadir, the fugitive financier, Mr Staple said it was also important to speed up fraud investigation and prosecution procedures.

Mr Staple has made recommendations to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice about how to make the process faster and more effective, including the use of plea bargaining.

He said that without intending to strike an optimistic note: 'I am not prepared to assume at this stage that the trial (of Mr Nadir) will not take place on 13 September.'

This would be three years after the charges. There was no embarrassment at Mr Nadir's escape, since the SFO had opposed bail in the first place, Mr Staple said.

The SFO had a target of one year each for investigations and prosecution and was 'broadly hitting that'.

One of the years that has passed since Mr Nadir was charged was due to applications for postponements by the defence, Mr Staple said. An appeal by the SFO against a court decision to reduce the number of charges did not lead to any delay, he added.

Mr Staple also warned: 'We must not sacrifice thoroughness for the expedience of bringing these cases to trial quicker.'

The SFO's fifth annual report said it was investigating 57 cases at the year-end, in which the sums lost or at risk were more than pounds 6bn, compared with 60 cases involving pounds 5.3bn a year earlier. The conviction rate rose slightly, to 71 per cent - 35 of 49 defendants in 25 trials - which Mr Staple described as a good year, despite the criticism.

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