The Supreme Court has curbed the Serious Fraud Office’s extra-territorial powers, ruling that it cannot demand documents held outside the UK by a foreign company under the Criminal Justice Act 1987.

In KRB v SFOthe Supreme Court found that the SFO overreached itself when it issued a notice under section 2(3) of the Criminal Justice 1987. The notice required US engineering conglomerate KBR Inc to produce material held overseas.

A UK subsidiary of KRB provided the SFO with documents in 2017. However, when the investigator attempted to obtain documents held outside of the UK, KRB applied for judicial review to quash the notice. 

In a judgment handed down, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld KRB’s appeal. It found that section 2(3) of the 1987 act is generally not intended to have extra-territorial effect and that the presumption clearly applies in this case because KBR, Inc is not a UK company, and has never had a registered office or carried on business in the UK.

The court also rejected the argument that parliament intended section 2(3) to give the SFO the power to compel a foreign company to produce documents it holds outside the UK.