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Money machines: SFO spending on AI tops Slaughters as investigators use software in Rolls-Royce case

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is using artificial intelligence technology from RAVN Systems to work on its most important cases and has spent more with the software firm than on regular adviser Slaughter and May in the first six months of this financial year.

The SFO used RAVN’s applied cognitive engine (ACE) AI platform on the probe into Rolls-Royce on alleged bribery and corruption in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Russia, China and Nigeria. The case reached a deferred prosecution agreement on 17 January with a £671m total settlement.

In fact the SFO is regularly making use of RAVN with its average spending on the technology and AI provider topping its main expenses on key legal advisers such as Slaughters and leading barristers.

SFO chief technology officer Ben Denison said: ‘Our cases regularly involve handling tens of millions of documents and the volume of data is constantly increasing. It would be impossible to review everything manually, so using machine learning techniques which are faster and more accurate than human review alone will become a key feature in our future investigations. This will allow us to make better use of our resources, and ultimately reduce the time it takes to investigate our cases.’

RAVN’s AI technology is used to automatically read, interpret and summarise key information from documents and unstructured data. The platform was implemented at law firm BLP in 2015 as a contracts robot, but has since been rolled out at several firms.

During first half of the 2016/17 financial year the SFO paid RAVN systems £450,000 for use of its services, which include technical support for its eDiscovery systems and use of its AI platform RAVN ACE. The costs are a significant increase on last year, when the SFO spent £395,000 for the 12 months to April 2016 on RAVN’s services.

On the other hand, the SFO’s declared spending on legal counsel was around £450,000 for the first six months to October 2016. Fees went to top QCs including Simon Farrell QC, Helen Malcolm and James Hines QC all of Three Raymond Buildings, John McGuinness QC of 9-12 Bell Yard. The spending included around £70,500 to Slaughters relating to civil litigation.

RAVN has made a push into the AI market, signing up firms including Linklaters, Reed Smith and Dentons to use its product. Other providers such as Kira have begun working with Clifford Chance, while Slaughters has signed up to use Luminance for due diligence on M&A work.

In the recent probe, Rolls-Royce was represented by David Perry QC of 6KWB instructed by Slaughters. The SFO instructed Sir Richard Garnier QC of One Brick Court Chambers and Richard Whittam QC of 2 Bedford Row along with Alison Clare of Red Lion Chambers, Christopher Foulkes of 2 Hare Court, Saul Herman of 2 Temple Gardens and Jennifer Carter Manning of 7. The case was overseen by Sir Brian Leveson.