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05 August 2014
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) recently announced that it has settled claims brought by Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz arising from the manner in which it investigated their alleged involvement in the collapse of Icelandic bank Kaupthing hf. This investigation had seen both of the brothers arrested in a March 2011 dawn raid that was later found to be based on unlawfully obtained search warrants.
These proceedings have generated a number of noteworthy interim decisions concerning disclosure, including decisions regarding inadvertent disclosure of privileged material (for further details please see "Court confirms position on inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents"), the application of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 to disclosure in civil proceedings and third-party disclosure orders.
The latest decision, Tchenguiz v Director of the Serious Fraud Office ( EWHC 2379 (Comm)), relates to Robert Tchenguiz's and other corporate claimants' rights to use documents disclosed in these English proceedings in concurrent proceedings in Guernsey.
The claimants initially applied for permission to instruct a review team, including lawyers familiar with the details of certain discrete proceedings in Guernsey, to identify further documents disclosed by the SFO which might have been relevant to the Guernsey proceedings. Specifically, the function of the review team was said to be solely to advise as to whether any particular documents or sets of documents from the SFO's disclosure had or could have a significant bearing on the outcome of the appeal in the Guernsey proceedings. The court accepted that the outcome of the Guernsey appeal was likely to have a substantial effect on the claimants' rights and the proposed review could well have resulted in the identification of potentially relevant documents in those proceedings.
The claimants accepted that the documents produced by the SFO in the English proceedings were subject to the general prohibition set out in Civil Procedure Rule 31.22 against using documents disclosed in proceedings for other purposes.(1)
The claimants had already made a similar application in these proceedings for permission to use documents disclosed by the SFO to obtain legal advice as to possible criminal offences.(2) In that decision the court applied the principles set out in Marlwood(3) requiring any party requesting such an order to "demonstrate cogent and persuasive reasons why it should be released", amounting to "special circumstances".(4) The court in this earlier decision also emphasised the importance of protecting the public interest by ensuring that material disclosed in proceedings was not used for collateral purposes.
In considering the current application the court set out the key principles to be taken from its previous decision:
The claimants submitted that the current application satisfied these principles on the following grounds:
The SFO argued that the application should not be permitted, as the claimants failed to demonstrate any cogent and persuasive reasons or special circumstances; further, it was fundamentally wrong to describe the proposed review as "limited" because:
Without commenting on the likely prospects of any future application, the court felt unable to deny the claimants the opportunity to make an application in the current proceedings; this would be contrary to ordinary principles of justice and fairness and was in itself a cogent and persuasive reason as well as a special circumstance in favour of granting permission. This may not have been the case had the court been in a position to say that any such possible future application was doomed to fail in any event, but it was impossible to reach that conclusion at this stage.
The SFO also sought to oppose the application by arguing that allowing the claimants to use the disclosed information in the manner requested would circumvent the statutory procedure – laid down in the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act 1975 and Part 34 of the Civil Procedure Rules – by which the Guernsey courts can seek the assistance of the English courts in obtaining documentary evidence within England. While the court acknowledged that the existence of the procedure and the Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act was potentially a highly relevant consideration to the exercise of the court's discretion under Civil Procedure Rule 31.22, it did not consider that it was a bar to the exercise of such discretion. Further, the claimants would be unable to make any application in Guernsey without (at least arguably) breaching Civil Procedure Rule 31.22.
In allowing the application the court was strongly persuaded by the fact that the proposed course of action did not, at this stage at least, involve the use of any documents in the Guernsey proceedings. In granting the application the court gave permission subject to the review team agreeing to enter into suitable confidentiality agreements and the SFO being properly protected with regard to its reasonable costs.
The crucial factor in coming to this decision was that the proposed review was a limited course of action. It merely involved preliminary steps necessary to enable the claimants to receive legal advice and, if so advised, to make an appropriate application pursuant to Civil Procedure Rule 31.22.
The court more recently handed down its decision in a further application made by the claimants under Civil Procedure Rule 31.22(1)(b) for permission to use 22 separate documents in the Guernsey proceedings.(5) These documents were not subject to the review granted under the court's decision described above. However, the application did require the court to develop the points considered in the first application above.
In this further decision, the claimants' request to be allowed to deploy these 22 documents in the Guernsey proceedings was refused. In doing so, the court highlighted the following principles:
These recent decisions reinforce the application of the principles outlined in Marlwood to decisions made using the court's discretion under Civil Procedure Rule 31.22(1)(b) and, in doing so, make clear that when applying for permission to use documents for purposes other than the proceedings in which they were disclosed, the bar is set very high.
In this particular case, the court was faced with a difficult balancing act reflecting the tension between, on the one hand, the strong public interest of confidentiality in the documents in question and, on the other, the private interests of the claimants and the associated public interest in discovering the truth. The eventual decision of the court demonstrates the weight given to the public interest of protecting confidentiality and maintaining international cooperation in criminal investigations.
Although the claimants were unsuccessful in obtaining permission to deploy the documents in the Guernsey proceedings, the court did comment that the matters identified as pointing against the grant of permission might have been assuaged at least in part if it were possible to reduce further the number of documents which the claimants sought to deploy and/or to redact the documents so as to exclude certain information contained in the documents which was objectionable to the SFO and the Guernsey authorities.
For further information on this topic please contact Laura Martin at RPC by telephone (+44 20 3060 6000), fax (+44 20 3060 7000) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). The RPC website can be accessed at www.rpc.co.uk.
(1) A separate pending application for permission to use 22 particular documents in the Guernsey proceedings had been listed to be heard on July 21 2014.
(3) Marlwood Commercial Inc v Kozeny  1 WLR 104.
(4) At §43 per Lord Justice Rix.
(5) Tchenguiz v Serious Fraud Office  EWHC 2597 (Comm).
(6) The documents in question were said to relate to steps taken by Guernsey to respond to a request for mutual legal assistance made by the SFO under Section 7 of the Crime (International Cooperation) Act 2003. For reasons of confidentiality the court did not set out the exact contents of the document in the public judgment.
(7)  FSR 819, 831 para 11(d)-(e).
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