On 29 March 2017, the Administrative Court (Gross LJ and Nicol J) dismissed a claim for judicial review concerning a letter of request sent by the SFO to the authorities in Monaco seeking their assistance in relation to a criminal investigation. The letter of request was sent pursuant to two international treaties: the Strasbourg Convention (the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters 1959) and the Palermo Convention (the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime 2000).
On 22 March 2016, the SFO commenced an investigation into offences of corruption, conspiracy to corrupt, conspiracy to enter into corrupt transactions outside the UK and bribery. On the following day, the SFO sent a letter of request to the authorities in Monaco, requesting that various premises be searched and business records obtained. The Monegasque authorities acted on the letter of request and, amongst other things, raided the Claimants’ homes and offices and arrested and interviewed the Third to Fifth Claimants.
The Claimants challenged the legality of the letter of request and argued that it was unlawful because it failed to disclose key information and it was an impermissible fishing expedition. During the course argument, the Claimants contended that the SFO was under a ‘heightened procedural obligation’ when issuing letters of request, such obligation being akin to the obligations on parties making ex parte applications.
The Court rejected the Claimants’ arguments. The Court found that no such obligation existed. Letters of request existed in a field of high public interest and international comity. A heightened procedural obligation would introduce unwarranted complexity and it would be much more likely to slow down the working of the international scheme rather than assist its expeditious operation.
Simon Pritchard acted as Junior Counsel for the Director of the Serious Fraud Office.