An evaluation of the forensic accountant's role in criminal law proceedings
Forensic accountants are occasionally called upon to assist in criminal law proceedings. The role of the forensic accountant in such proceedings is usually determined during the engagement of the forensic investigation to assist in the matter under investigation. During such investigations, various investigation techniques may be utilised by the forensic accountant in order to convey the facts and findings of the forensic investigation in a written report, drafted by the forensic accountant. When criminal prosecutions are instituted and the forensic accountant is called upon to act as an expert witness, such evidence is mostly based on the findings of the written report. Thus, in giving evidence, the forensic accountant must ensure that the testimony and evidence will be admissible in court and that the forensic accountant is found to be a credible witness. Although there are various legal standards that the forensic accountant must adhere to, the ICFP, which is the South African regulatory body for commercial forensic practitioners, is still in its infancy and has as yet not set any standards with which forensic accountants must comply with when assisting in criminal investigations or drafting written reports. The objective of this study is to highlight the role of the forensic accountant in criminal law proceedings. This objective is reached by clarification of the following: • the difference between a forensic accountant and an auditor; • the techniques available to the forensic accountant when conducting a forensic investigation; • the standards with which a forensic accountant‘s report should comply; and • the forensic accountant‘s role in testimony. The study illustrates the difference between a forensic accountant and an auditor and suggests a definition for a forensic accountant. The study furthermore explores various techniques that the forensic accountant may utilise during the investigation. The study also analyses the legal standards with which a forensic accountant must comply in order to ensure the admissibility of the written report and its findings. In order to achieve this, international regulatory standards applicable to forensic accountants are analysed and discussed. Finally, the role of the forensic accountant in court proceedings is examined. The illustrations in this study will be helpful in determining standards that could be implemented in South Africa to guide forensic accountants in their role in criminal law proceedings.