Internal Investigation

By Stuart Alford QC, Daniel Smith and James Fagan

 Privilege is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the common law, and a principle which is central to the administration of justice. Once a document is subject to privilege, the privilege is absolute: it cannot be overridden by some countervailing rule of public policy”.

These dicta from Andrews J in her decision in Director of the Serious Fraud Office v Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Ltd [2017] EWHC 1017 are reassuring, but her ruling on the scope of privilege may prove somewhat less so to corporates.

The decision concerned a claim by the Director of the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) for a declaration that certain documents generated between 2011 and 2013 during investigations undertaken by solicitors and forensic accountants into the activities of the defendant, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Ltd (ENRC) and its subsidiaries were not, as ENRC maintained, subject to legal professional privilege, either legal advice privilege or litigation privilege. The decision is the first to consider the position of legal advice privilege in the context of internal investigation and an SFO investigation.