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International Advice & Assistance Services

International Advice & Assistance

Mutual legal assistance

"One of the best boutique white-collar firms. Very experienced, committed to their cases…"

Legal 500

Many serious criminal cases involve the gathering of evidence from several jurisdictions. Often there will be joint investigations, particularly between UK, US and EU prosecutors.

Mutual legal assistance (MLA) is the formal means by which countries request and provide help in obtaining evidence located in one country in order to assist with a criminal investigation or proceedings in another country. MLA is usually effected through international treaty or convention arrangements, sometimes involving the UK courts. Alternatively, international cooperation can be achieved informally (on a “law enforcement cooperation” basis), outside any formal MLA framework.

We have extensive experience in representing businesses and individuals who are either witnesses or suspects in international criminal investigations. We advise these clients about their rights and obligations under the UK’s MLA and informal law enforcement cooperation arrangements, and how best to pre-empt those risks and engage tactically with the investigating authorities. We advise where there are criminal proceedings outside the UK which might result in the UK Central Authority (the relevant department at the Home Office) being contacted to provide assistance. We have particular expertise in advising on external restraint orders sought by overseas prosecutors, which have the effect of freezing assets located in the UK, as well as requests for individuals in the UK to give evidence as witnesses in foreign criminal proceedings, including through deposition hearings at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. In many cases, advice will also be required about law and procedure in the overseas jurisdiction. We have excellent contacts with foreign lawyers with whom we work frequently on cross-border cases.

Brexit has changed the landscape of MLA with the EU, but the UK retains the ability to use a number of EU measures (such as the Joint Investigation Team) and requests to the UK can still be made by prosecutors or judicial authorities of EU member states under the 1959 Council of Europe Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance. These recent changes mean there are more opportunities for individuals to challenge both MLA requests from the EU and informal requests for law enforcement cooperation.

Work highlights:

  • Advising a company director concerning the deposition of evidence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court arising from a US MLA request in the Huawei investigation;
  • Advising a multinational natural resources company on an MLA request from within the EU relating to allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity;
  • Acting for a UK company whose funds were frozen under an external restraint order applied for by the Italian authorities in a high-profile bribery/corruption investigation;
  • Advising the CFO of a major UK bank concerning the deposition of evidence at Westminster Magistrates’ Court arising from an Irish MLA request in a high-profile banking investigation;
  • Advising a group of employees at a FTSE 100 company concerning a criminal investigation in West Africa, including whether and how to engage with the requests, and how their evidence could be obtained through MLA/informally;
  • Advising a high profile businessman in relation to an US MLA request and informal request for an witness interview with the FBI, which was successfully avoided.