The Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) is becoming an increasingly important resource for foreign jurisdictions when fighting large-scale international crime, recent disclosure reveals.

In response to a Thomson Reuters Legal Freedom of Information Request, it was recorded that external requests to the SFO through mutual legal assistance channels for information to assist international criminal investigations, rose 62% in 2015. The 55 requests received last year compared to only 34 in 2014, 25 in 2013 and 23 in 2012. 

The SFO of course only deals with requests concerning some of the most serious of crimes (e.g. frauds over £1m), but the trend of requests increasing goes far beyond its remit. Figures released by the Home Office demonstrate that between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2012 the UK Central Authority received 2,625 requests, rising to 3,360 in 2013. In both years Poland and Germany topped the request leadership chart. By 2015 the figure had risen to 5,728 – 20% of which related to cyber-enabled fraud alone.

The UK too remains an active party in making such requests to other countries. Outgoing requests made from the Home Office to foreign jurisdictions in 2014 totalled 487, with the USA being the most popular requested state. This figure however does not include supplementary requests or returned requests for further information. It also does not record requests made directly to the requested state or by bodies outside the Home Office. In short, the actual figure is likely to be substantially higher.

This transnational approach to prosecuting crimes is not particular to the UK either. In the Department of Justice’s (“DoJ”) Full Year 2015 Budget Overview it noted that the number of MLA requests it has received over the past decade has grown nearly 60%, with computer evidence requests increasing ten-fold. This growth led the DoJ to request a further $24.1m in 2015 to assist in its execution of such requests.

So mutual legal assistance is here to stay and recent cooperation with China and Kazakhstan (see our related blog, Global Criminality and Mutual Legal Assistance) demonstrates its use is only going to expand. As the use of technology increases and the world gets figuratively smaller, understanding the evidence gathering capabilities of states is essential when facing a criminal investigation.