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Is The Criminal Defence Expert Under Threat?

Why would a criminal defence expert be under threat? I am not talking about unwanted attention from the criminals he or she is providing services for. No, it is the increasing use of independent experts by the regulators…and this means less resources available for the defence!

This is a good thing of course. I have frequently written about the need for more experienced independent forensic accountants working alongside the fraud regulators…the public and private sector partnership. I even demonstrated that the cost of an “expensive” private forensic accountant can be less than the cost of employing a public sector police officer when researching my Masters Degree in Fraud Investigation Management a few years ago.

As an independent accounting expert I provide services to criminal defence lawyers on behalf of their clients. In order to maintain my non partisan profile, I also receive instructions from fraud and crime regulators. This is usually the police and the CPS, who are attempting to make a case against the suspect. Indeed, in the early days of developing my fraud forensic accounting speciality, I frequently targeted uk regulators. However, such are budget restraints that it appeared that police forces and the CPS only purchased third party expertise occasionally. I would take on one or two new jobs for the Crown every year. This was compared to a couple of dozen new criminal defence instructions annually.

Has Funding For Third Party Criminal Defence Experts Increased?

Suddenly it seems I am receiving many more enquiries from the police forces and also directly from the CPS. Whereas my portfolio would include perhaps one or two active assignments, now I have six. Also there are several more quotes in the pipeline. This is about the same number as my active criminal defence expert assignments. (criminal cases can easily span two or three years – especially following the Pandemic)

Over the coming 12 months or so I have to block out a dozen trial dates. This makes the calendar quite busy already! Some of these dates are concurrent. Most (if not all of them) will drop out as hearings are postponed or outcomes are agreed prior to trial. It still means booking the annual holiday is hard.

Therefore, I wonder if the budgets for external criminal defence experts have increased? The Government generally receives bad press for not doing enough against fraud. However, it announced in 2023 that 200 new dedicated police fraud investigators would be recruited. Still not enough, but a move in the right direction.

If the regulators are employing more outside accounting experts, the standard of some of their complex fraud presentations must improve. It might mean that the Crown’s cases become less easy to challenge by the defence. A move in the right direction…surely?

Poacher Or Gamekeeper?

The value of a truly independent appraisal of a criminal case means that a court can hopefully be persuaded towards a fair outcome. The expert forensic accountant is neither poacher nor gamekeeper, he has no duty to either party but only to the court. Examples of the resulting benefits to both sides are illustrated by the following two cases:

For the defence:

  • A teacher was accused of stealing some £40,000 from one of the school’s “sleeping” accounts. The Crown’s fraud investigation was superficial and ignored a range of opportunities for theft by a number of other parties. I carried out detailed fraud examination of the case and obtained substantial additional documentary evidence. My report confirmed that the teacher’s initial accuser (the headmaster) may have been telling fibs. This was both when he first accused the teacher and also when giving his evidence for the Crown. The Court accepted my evidence and acquitted the teacher.

For the prosecution:

  • The police had thoroughly investigated a fraudster. It was clear that the criminal had benefited hugely over a number of years. The CPS wanted a good result. I examined the Crown’s findings and unpicked the complex web of transactions. My investigation arrived at a credible figure for the victims’ losses. The Court accepted my report and used the quantum of loss to award the maximum prison sentence.

Criminal Defence Expert In Perspective

My work consists of investigating cases of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. I am not seeking to either undermine the prosecution’s case or conversely to assist the police to get a fantastic result. I work in this field because I gain a sense of fair play when allowed to examine cases as an independent assessor. Occasionally my work for a police force will encourage them to drop the case, or my work for the criminal defendant will encourage them to plead guilty. Of course, whatever side I am batting for, I get a great deal of satisfaction when I am able to present a fair case that trumps the opposition!