We don’t do American

It might be possible to pinpoint the SFO mistake here:

Less than a month after taking up the role as director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Lisa Osofsky received a text message that kicked off a series of events leaving her fighting for her job and reputation.

It led to an unfair trial as Osofsky and colleagues tried to cut a backroom deal. Her decisions have mired the UK’s white collar crime agency in yet another controversy – despite the American being tasked with transforming the beleaguered body.

It’s that word, “American”. So, she’s done Harvard Law, deputy something for the FBI. Steeped we might say in the American manner of doing criminal law. Plea bargains and stitch ups that is.

Tinsley was acting as a fixer for the founding Ahsani family of Unaoil, an oil and gas consultancy at the centre of a multimillion pound bribery probe by the SFO. He offered to help secure a guilty plea from Ziad Akle, an executive at Monaco-based Unaoil who he didn’t represent, in return for a more lenient deal for his own clients.

Last year Akle was handed a five-year jail sentence after being found guilty of conspiring to bribe an Iraqi official to secure an oil deal.

But last week, the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction after finding that the 46-year-old did “not have a fair trial”. It said the SFO had “handicapped the defence”.

The blistering ruling has forced Attorney General Suella Braverman to launch an investigation into the agency’s handling of the case, leaving Osofsky under a darkening cloud.

We don’t do criminal law that American way. The courts won’t allow it. The mistake therefore was to have someone in that American tradition trying to run the prosecution authority here in England.

It’s like the difference in the meaning of the word “pissed”. Once we get over the past tense of to micturate it has entirely different meanings in English and American. So too with other parts of life – like how we prosecute criminal cases.

22 thoughts on “We don’t do American”

  1. Same with “graft”. Over here it means to work industriously. Over there it means corruption. You get strange looks from Merkins when telling them our greatest cities were built from hard graft. But then, many of theirs are run that way. 😉

  2. But what possessed Our Glorious Civil Service to employ the shyster in the first place? Surely everyone knows that the US courts are a corrupt disgrace?

    Maybe the logic was “we want more convictions so we’ll bring in an experienced spiv to arrange it.” Beware, young men: they’ll soon be up to the same trick with rape cases.

  3. “Graft” is an interesting word and I wonder whether it has changed its meaning in Britain. I remember reading UK newspapers from the 1920s and 30s that used “graft” for corruption, most particularly in relation to the Newfoundland scandal. There were generally a lot of what we think of as Americanisms in papers, they were common usage but now they are in reality archaic, but we mustn’t forget also that gangster movies were very pooular and people went to the pictures twice a week.

    “Hustle” was a word I also kept coming across. It meant in that context of being jostled and mobbed.

  4. “Graft” is an interesting word and I wonder whether it has changed its meaning in Britain.

    There are other examples of what we would today regard as Americanisms that are actually archaic English, such as “fall” for “autumn”.

  5. Why are we allowing foreigners to have any authority, in any context, in the UK?

    Given the names and nationalities in that story, the Telegraph of old might have appended with a “no Britons involved”.

    * Osofsky has dual US / British citizenship. (a ridiculous construct)

  6. Taking of “pissed”, I was joyous with laughter when trying to explain to a foreign acquaintance what was meant by the expression “they went out on the piss and came back shit-faced”.

  7. Dennis, Who Sometimes Watched 'Law And Order'

    So, she’s done Harvard Law, deputy something for the FBI.

    Two excellent reasons not to hire her under any circumstances.

    On either side of the pond.

  8. Bill Bryson’s “Made in America” is a very good book, about the evolution of American English. Fascinating! Highly recommended!

  9. Notes From a Small Island is very good too. Bryson starts by being rather bemused by the antics of the Brits but slowly and gradually finds himself going native. Never totally native but still picking up a lot of their funny habits.

  10. Nautical Nick – been reading it this last week.Agree v good. especially the line that 18th Century founding fathers said- hoss for horse, summat for something and a whole list of pronunciations which lead him to conclude the best model for 18th Cent gent speak (both sides of the pond) was Yosemite Sam/
    I always cringe at the jury selection process. Yes i understand the logic, but still. Also the coaching of witnesses complete with full on mock juries. Very odd.
    but most states still have the felony murder rule which i think Tony Blair, the great reformer did away with. basically if the intent was there to commit a crime and someone died as a result, the intent gets automatically transferred to the act of murder. Similar rule just brought back – but only applies to coppers, and emergency services.

  11. Slightly O/T, which two UK MPs could legally become US Presidential candidates (i.e. born in the USA)? Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is the obvious one, but the other is Joy Morrison, the successor of the unlamented Dominic Grieve as MP for Beaconsfield (she was born in Indiana and naturalised after taking a degree at LSE).

  12. Boris renounced his US citizenship. I think Megan Markle can still theoretically be POTUS and Queen (Mrs King) of England; pretty good hedging.

  13. The real problem isn’t the Yank. She’s a yank and too ignorant to know any better. The problem is that the SFO lawyers having not engaged with this agent then did not have the nous to tell the yank not to do the deal. The SFO suffers from the same problem as the CPS, it’s full of those too mentally deficient to work in the private sector, with the rare exceptions lower down, who are putting in some time before moving to the private sector. The correct answer in both cases, is to fire everyone – preferably for gross negligence and start again – hiring a small core of good people.

  14. @PJF

    I think Megan Markle can still theoretically be POTUS and Queen (Mrs King) of England; pretty good hedging.

    There was an article a while back about how she can’t be President because she accepted a title from a foreign country.
    I guess it would be ok if she renounced the duchessy.

    I said something similar a long time ago. She’ll become president. Then coincidentally there will be some major, erm, accident and Harry becomes King.
    Reunification of UK and US?

  15. @dearieme. They hired her in the hope that she would reform the Augean Stables. It’s stupid. The only answer is to burn it down and start again. With a strict proviso never to rehire the morons they currently employ. Basically wanting to work at the SFO or the CPS is a signal of incompetence, such that they should never be permitted to practice law.

  16. The last time I appeared as an expert witness (in a civil case) the barrister briefed me just before I was called. Your duty is to the court: you must not behave in the outrageously biased manner of American expert witnesses (at least as depicted in drama).

    Good. But then why was his side of the case paying me? On reflection it was because they were able to ensure that I looked at various bits of evidence and reasoning that the other side probably didn’t want inspected. Seems fair enough to me.

  17. dearime- expert witnesses i shudder. I know one, i.e. see them in the pub regularly. Chem MA. long career, quite clever, I guess she makes a very good witness for one side of the other because she’s totally sure in her own statements and extremely derisive of any counter view. Which i always thought fine, science is science. Trouble is I happened to mention once that aluminum reacts with room temp water , in the pub, she pooh poohed me to the rafters, first laughing then refusing to give free chemistry lessons. It wasn’t a big thing to me, didn’t need to be accepted as right- but i was pretty sure it does..had seen it in a thunderf00t video- the explanation being that its so reactive that Aluminium Oxide forms on the surface..but we didnt get that far and for all i know she’s pooh poohing away in some insurance case as i type.

  18. Ken- yeah didn’t put it too well but that’s what i meant- the oxide layer forms very quickly in air, is very thin, protects it from further oxidisation and so thin it’s effectively transparent so you see the metal. Same with chrome and stainless steel. But if that surface layer is removed (with acid?)and the AL foil dunked in water it will nick the o2 from the H2O and produce hydrogen.

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