Where a bank had notified its suspicions of potential money laundering, it did not have to disclose the names of the individual employees who had held those suspicions during the standard disclosure exercise.

In Shah and another v HSBC Private Bank (UK) Ltd, Shah instructed HSBC to execute certain transactions. HSBC suspected (wrongly) that those transactions may have been connected with money laundering and made a report to the Serious Organised Crime Agency seeking consent to proceed. Because of this the transaction was delayed and Shah subsequently brought a claim for breach of contract against HSBC.

During the disclosure exercise in the proceedings, HSBC redacted documents to remove the names of the employees who had reported their suspicions to HSBC's nominated officer. The judge at first instance had ordered that HSBC was, under its duty of standard disclosure, obliged to reveal the employees' names, but that it was prima facie entitled to maintain their anonymity on the ground of public interest immunity.

The Court of Appeal held that to fall within the obligation of standard disclosure, the material had to adversely affect HSBC's case or support or adversely affect Shah's case. The only point that remained in issue in this case was whether HSBC had held genuine suspicions of money laundering or not. The issue was whether the material adversely affected HSBC's case. The court held that Shah's request for the names of the employees was a fishing expedition and disclosure was not necessary to meet the standard disclosure requirement. The question of public interest immunity did not therefore arise.

Things to consider

Decisions of this nature will be fact specific. However, it would be an unusual case in which the identity of the employee who notifies of a suspicion of money laundering will be sufficiently relevant to either support or adversely affect a case. This is particularly so where the employees are simply following standard procedure and there is nothing out of the ordinary.