Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of R (Corner House Research) v Director of the Serious Fraud Office  UKHL 60 2009 1 ac 756, it is within the discretion of the Director of the Serious Fraud Office to suspend investigations on the basis of threats from an overseas government, under section 1(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 1987.
Facts of the Case
- D, using his powers under section 1(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 1987, was investigating the allegations that were made to a UK company alleging that it was corrupt. This company was the main contractor for valuable arms between the UK and Saudi Arabia
- During the investigation, D sought to check Swiss bank accounts to find evidence of the advance of payments to Saudi officials.
- Saudi Arabia resisted the investigations by threatening the UK; they threatened to withdraw from their counter-terrorism co-operation arrangements with the UK.
- During meetings which discussed the threats on behalf of Saudi Arabia, D stopped the investigations.
- C, Corner House, applied for judicial review of this decision, finding that it is illegal for Saudi Arabia’s threat to influence D’s choice of stopping the investigations.
- The decision was quashed by the Divisional Court.
- Was D’s decision to halt the investigations unlawful?
Held by the House of Lords
- The House of Lords allowed the appeal and found that D’s decision was lawful.
Lord Bingham of Cornhill
- With regards to the failure to exercise discretion, his Lordship found that D is a public official that is chosen by the Crown, but acts in his own discretion, similar to the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
- “The Director was confronted by an ugly and obviously unwelcome threat. He had to decide what, if anything, he should do. He did not surrender his discretionary power of decision to any third party, although he did consult the most expert source available to him in the person of the Ambassador and he did, as he was entitled if not bound to do, consult the Attorney General who, however, properly left the decision to him. The issue in these proceedings is not whether his decision was right or wrong, nor whether the Divisional Court or the House agrees with it, but whether it was a decision which the Director was lawfully entitled to make.”