A Financial Times article recently brought to light the mounting concerns over the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) move to modify the settlement process by offering deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) over criminal charges.

In a letter to David Green, director, SFO, the groups suggest that an investigation should come to an end only with court approval in a public hearing. Moreover, the anti-corruption activists urges that immunity to individuals should be avoided at all cost while companies who are offered DPAs should be fined of “significant deterrent value”.

“The U.K. is embarking deferred prosecution agreements at a time when their use has become increasingly controversial in the U.S. and we believe that the U.K. must, and can, avoid the more controversial elements of the settlement process,” the groups wrote.

Even though the SFO was provided with the right to use DPAs last year, it has not used them to date but the watchdog has issued letters to several companies calling for them to participate in negotiations.

“DPAs should only be offered where there is a very strong public interest argument in favor of their use”. Also, “where the offending is not of a serious nature, the harm caused to victims and the community is minimal, and where there has also been a genuine self-report, full co-operation and remedial action (including dismissal of employees involved in the wrongdoing) by the company,” the groups said.

In the letter, the groups told the SFO that in order for deferred prosecution to be granted, a company should admit to misconduct and victims involved in the case should be provided with a chance to testify/ present statements at approval hearings.

Richard Alderman, who served as Green’s predecessor was tasked with doing more with less resources. Alderman attempted to offer deals that were similar in nature to the DPAs as a way to resolve cases but was criticized by the courts for not having the power to enter into such bargains.

In response to the letter, the SFO reaffirmed its commitment to transparency and is currently considering the letter, which it will provide “a detailed response to the specific points,” the watchdog said.