In December, we looked at the Government's announcement that it would be launching the National Economic Crime Centre ("NECC") to help coordinate the UK's efforts in dealing with serious economic crime and corruption. At the time, few details were available about how the NECC would actually function, and we questioned whether indeed it was the best use of resources in an already-stretched criminal justice system.
Against that background, it was therefore disappointing – though perhaps not surprising – to learn of the Government's proposal for funding the NECC, which was announced this week. Ben Wallace, Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime, has confirmed that the NECC's annual budget of £6m will come from "financial and/or staffing" contributions from the existing agencies, which is most likely to mean the National Crime Agency ('NCA'), the Serious Fraud Office ('SFO') and the Financial Conduct Authority ('FCA').
This announcement could hardly be worse news for state investigators. Not only will they have to accept an erosion of their operational independence, but now they are going to be asked to pay for the privilege, be that in real terms or in the form of valued staff. This will result in yet another cut in the overall funding provided to these front-line agencies, which will inevitably hamper their efforts even further.
Additionally, there is a real risk that these ongoing cuts will impact upon the standard of any prosecutions that may result from cases investigated by these agencies, with consequences for suspects and defendants involved in those cases who look to the state to provide a fair trial in which the prosecution has discharged properly and fully its disclosure obligations.
Paradoxically, the people who the Government say this initiative is aimed at helping – namely victims of economic crime – could also find that their position has actually worsened as it increasingly becomes the case that their complaints cannot be investigated and/or prosecuted effectively, not through a lack of will but simply because the required level of financial support and infrastructure is not being provided to those responsible for carrying out the work.