New Home Office guidance on SARs and disclosure in civil litigation

The Home Office has published a circular on suspicious activity reports (SARs) in the context of disclosure in private civil litigation.

It sets out:

  • how to document decisions to reduce reliance on SARs in litigation
  • the steps to follow when you’re obliged to disclose a SAR
  • how to respond to a data subject access request (DSAR)

The circular does not affect any legal obligations of disclosure under the Civil Procedure Rules or a court order.

Documenting decisions

The circular states that you should, as far as possible, avoid referring to SARs when documenting decision-making processes.

For example, when deciding to end a client relationship, documentation should focus on the case-specific reasons for the decision. This could include:

  • commercial reasons
  • risk appetite factors
  • non-compliance with agreed terms and conditions
  • inability to carry out customer due diligence

The guidance notes that this may reduce your need to rely on SARs in litigation.

Disclosing SARs

If you must disclose a SAR in civil litigation, either under the Civil Procedure Rules or a court order, you should email the National Crime Agency (NCA) at UKFIUSARs@nca.gov.uk.

According to the circular, you should list:

  • all the SARs you anticipate will be disclosable
  • a summary of any claim/defence
  • the reason you anticipate you’ll need to disclose the SARs
  • court deadlines
  • any other relevant material

The NCA will consider any potential risks to the public interest and may make representations about how to mitigate such risks.

Responding to DSARs

The circular states that data controllers should consider their disclosure obligations and how they handle material.

You may be able to rely on exemptions under the Data Protection Act 2018, such as the crime and taxation exemption.

Read the Information Commissioner's Office guidance on exemptions

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