In a judgment recently published by the High Court (available here), a claimant has been granted the right to inspect suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by his bank.
The Court made the order in interlocutory proceedings brought in the course of an individual’s claim against his bank for breach of contract, breach of the Data Protection Act 1998 and defamation. The claim arose after the bank froze the individual’s accounts and filed SARs. The individual applied for summary judgment and the bank applied for strike out. The Court dismissed both applications with the exception of ordering the bank to disclose the SARs it had filed in respect of the individual. The Court held that there was no evidence that the SARs were currently required to be kept confidential or that there was a risk of prejudicing an investigation. The Court gave the National Crime Agency (NCA), to whom the SARs had been made, an opportunity to make representations in the event the NCA felt there was a risk of prejudice.
The case has since settled but, following the ruling, institutions that file SARs should be aware that there is no inherent confidentiality in SARs and arguments that the disclosure of SARs risks criminal liability may carry little weight with civil courts in these circumstances. Certainly institutions that file SARs should not assume that they are protected from disclosure.