Partially overturning a decision of the High Court, the Court of Appeal held on 18 February 2020 that a company is able to withhold privileged material when responding to a notice from the Financial Reporting Council (the “FRC”) requiring the production of documents in connection with an FRC investigation. The decision has broad implications for the ambit of privilege during regulatory investigations.
The FRC (the UK regulator for auditors, accountants and actuaries) is currently conducting an investigation into Grant Thornton and one of its employees, in relation to its audit of Sports Direct International Plc (“Sports Direct”) for the year ending April 2016. In April 2017, the FRC (pursuant to its powers under the Statutory Auditors and Third Country Auditors Regulations 2016 (“SATCAR”)) notified Sports Direct that it was required to disclose emails and their attachments which: (i) relate to the audit, (ii) are held by one or more of five identified custodians, (iii) are dated within certain specified date ranges, and (iv) are responsive to one or more of 27 different specified search terms. Sports Direct provided approximately 2,000 documents to the FRC in response, but withheld 40 documents on the grounds of privilege (these documents were emails and attachments sent to or by Sports Direct’s legal advisers, either internal or external). The FRC applied to Court to force disclosure of the withheld documents.
Continue Reading UK Court of Appeal Finds That Privilege Affords Protection Against Regulators’ Requests for Documents Unless Overriden by Statute