Reform of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s veto over complex (and expensive) Serious Fraud Office investigations is long overdue.
Such powers have always made a mockery of Britain’s claims to judicial probity, even more so given that such decisions can be made in secret. And the problem is not going away. Indeed, thanks to the 25 per cent slice taken out of the SFO’s budget by recent Whitehall spending cuts, George Osborne will in all likelihood be called upon more often than any of his predecessors were.
It is no slur on Mr Osborne to point out the gross inappropriateness of the situation. Even if the temptation to consider the political ramifications of an inquiry is resisted, the possible appearance of corruption is damaging enough. Of course, taxpayers’ money must be safeguarded and the SFO’s budget-busting cases signed off. But it should be done by a judge.