According to the National Crime Agency (NCA), the COVID-19 outbreak has presented “an unprecedented crisis” for the criminal justice system in terms of the mounting backlog of complex criminal cases.
During this time, there has been an increase in the number of financial prosecutions brought, fuelled by a rise in furlough fraud activity, fraud involving the supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) and allegations of illegal financial transactions at home and abroad.
In tandem with this, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has insisted it will continue to investigate suspected fraud, so the backlog of cases is likely to increase.
However, with new jury trials in England and Wales being suspended on 23 March and only starting again recently on 24 August, courts have been working to find new ways of holding trials safely, including by using a second courtroom, linked by closed-circuit TV, to enable interested parties to watch proceedings.
Forensic accountants, who often act as expert witnesses in fraud cases, have also been working with counsel in different ways to present evidence and give their evidence clearly and succinctly from a social distance.
Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “In defence work, forensic accountants use their experience to work with the legal team to bring all the evidence together and, with the use of technology, can also analyse the case brought against their clients so they can better dispute the allegations made by the prosecution.
“Presenting complex financial evidence to a lay jury in a fraud trial is never easy at the best of time even with props and visual aids such as interactive graphs and organisational charts. Trying to do this remotely by video will be extremely challenging but until a vaccine to the virus is found, there may be no alternative.”