Home News AI-powered ‘Robo-Lawyer’ helps step up SFO’s fight against economic crime

AI-powered ‘Robo-Lawyer’ helps step up SFO’s fight against economic crime

by Brian Sims

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has announced a significant upgrade to its document analysis capability as Artificial Intelligence (AI) is made available to all of its new casework from this month. By automating document analysis, AI technology allows the SFO to investigate more quickly, reduce costs and achieve a lower error rate than is the case through the work of human lawyers alone.

Able to process more than half a million documents each day, a pilot ‘robot’ was recently used to scan for legal professional privilege content in the SFO’s Rolls-Royce case at speeds 2,000 times faster than a human lawyer. Building on this success, ‘Axcelerate’ – a new AI-powered document review system from OpenText – is now being rolled out alongside the robot, and will enable SFO case teams to better target their work and time in other aspects of investigative and prosecutorial tasks.

Previously, only independent barristers were used to comb through thousands of complex documents in order to identify evidence that could or couldn’t be seen by SFO investigators prior to them even beginning to sift through the documents themselves.

Not only will the new AI document review system be able to recognise patterns, group information by subject, organise timelines and remove duplicates, but it will eventually be able to sift for relevancy (thereby removing documents unrelated to an investigation).

Work faster and smarter

The SFO’s CTO Ben Denison said: “AI technology will help us to work smarter and faster and more effectively investigate and prosecute economic crime. Using innovative technology like this is no longer optional. Rather, it’s essential given the volume of material we are now dealing with. It will help to ensure that we can continue to meet our disclosure obligations and deliver justice sooner at a significantly lower cost. The amount of data handled by our digital forensics team has quadrupled in the last year, and that trend is continuing upwards as company data grows ever larger.”

Mark Barrenechea (vice-chair, CEO and CTO at OpenText) responded: “Advances in AI technology, the ability to review and analyse vast amounts of information and provide timely and meaningful insights will forever change the way in which the legal profession operates. The SFO is leading the way in the use of digital technology to investigate economic crimes, and OpenText is excited to partner with the organisation as it looks for truly revolutionary ways in which to use the lasted advancements across the organisation.”

The move to deploy AI across SFO cases comes after its successful use in a live pilot in the Rolls-Royce case (at the time, the SFO’s largest investigation with 30 million documents submitted for review and the UK’s first criminal case to make use of AI).

Law enforcement organisations in the UK and as far away as Australia have looked to the SFO to share its experience of the technology, which will help investigators speed up casework and piece together evidence faster than ever before. The SFO will begin managing all new cases with the technology from this month, with one case already exceeding Rolls-Royce in size with over 50 million documents requiring review and another larger than both of these cases combined.

Interim director appointed

The Attorney General’s Office has announced that Mark Thompson, currently COO at the Serious Fraud Office, will be appointed director of the organisation on an interim basis on 21 April pending the next permanent director becoming available.

Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson

Thompson stated: “The search for a new director has been successful, although the individual cannot take up the post immediately. In the meantime, it’s important that the SFO pursues its cases with vigour and discharges its legal and corporate obligations responsibly. My role will be to ensure that we continue to do this, and to ensure a smooth transition when the new director arrives.”

An experienced financial investigator, Thompson initially joined the SFO back in 2004. Prior to this, he started his career as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police Service before qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1997 and then going on to work for both the National Audit Office and KPMG Forensic.

Thompson headed the SFO’s Proceeds of Crime Division from 2012 through to 2016 and, in addition, became the organisation’s CFO in May 2015.

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