Neil Williams of business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli says that it only takes one such shortcoming to hamper the SFO's effectiveness.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is significantly behind when it comes to digital material and should take a new approach to resourcing, according to an official report.

An inspection of the SFO by Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that the time it took SFO staff to work through digital material was causing a 'key blockage' in the progression of cases.

The Inspectorate's report says: "The digital forensic unit is significantly behind in its processing of the digital material the case teams need to investigate. Resourcing inevitably plays a part in this.

"The SFO has carried out significant work to address the concerns with regard to processing the backlog of digital material but suffers from the same issues that face many in the criminal justice system with the increases in digital material.''

The report added that the SFO must "develop a strategic approach to resourcing and case management''.

HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty, said that while there are areas where the SFO can improve how it functions the agency does, for the most part, have in place the frameworks that can make the necessary improvements possible.

He added: "It would be wrong to read this report negatively and from the view that the SFO is ineffective: it is not.''

Yet while the report is not damning of the SFO, it does appear that changes in its operating methods are required.

In April last year, the SFO was heralding its use of artificial intelligence that could scan documents 2,000 times faster than a human lawyer. Yet this can only be of genuine benefit if all relevant information is processed in a timely fashion. The report highlights the issues giving rise to delays in investigations, which include a ponderous approach by the digital forensics unit within the SFO to making information available. This blunts the ability of investigative teams to process the evidence in their possession. Read more about SFO investigations in our guide: SFO Investigations - A Brief Explanation.

This issue, along with others highlighted in the report, gives credibility to the old adage that any organisation can only be as strong as its weakest link.

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