Reed Smith Client Alerts

Key takeaways

  • Nick Ephgrave QPM has taken up the role of SFO director following the departure of Lisa Osofsky.
  • Ephgrave steps into the role following a tumultuous period at the agency, during which it has faced multiple high-profile struggles.
  • Impending reforms of corporate criminal liability may hand the SFO additional prosecution tools, and Ephgrave’s background signals a focus on investigations of offences.
  • Observers will be waiting to see whether Ephgrave can reform the SFO into the formidable enforcer of corporate criminal laws that has always been promised.

On 5 July 2023, Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC MP announced that Nick Ephgrave QPM will be the next director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), and the former police officer took up his new role on Monday 25 September 2023.

A. Background

Lisa Osofsky was director of the SFO from 2018, and even though the agency achieved remarkable successes under her leadership, such as the widely reported and highest value €3.5 billion deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), her tenure was also plagued by a series of botched investigations and trial collapses.

In particular, the SFO repeatedly struggled with disclosure issues, leading to failed prosecutions and damning reports into these investigations. The acquittal of Serco executives, which was compounded by the Unaoil case, saw the SFO sharply criticised by the Court of Appeal, which noted that the defence had been ‘handicapped’ by the SFO’s failure to comply with its disclosure obligations, resulting in three convictions from the bribery case being overturned and a damning report from Sir David Calvert-Smith KC.

Following those incidents, Osofsky indicated that the agency would conduct a detailed review into disclosure with a review conducted by Brian Altman KC publishing its recommendations in June 2022. In the wide-reaching review, Altman identified a number of key operational deficiencies within the SFO, such as resource pressures, inadequate training and inexperience within review teams.

It was then announced in November 2022 that Osofsky would leave the SFO after completing her five-year stint at the agency.

B. Nick Ephgrave

Ephgrave’s background is a key differentiator from his predecessors, with the SFO typically being led by lawyers with prosecutorial experience. Ephgrave, however, is a former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, where he led over 21,000 officers and staff in delivering frontline operational activity.