New Year, New Powers: Serious Fraud Office gains greater powers to compel information at an early stage

17 January 2024

As of 15 January 2024, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) can now compel individuals and companies to provide them with information before an investigation has been formally opened in relation to fraud and domestic bribery and corruption matters. Prior to this, the SFO could only use its compelled powers, pre-investigation, in connection with international bribery and corruption matters. 

This increase in scope was introduced by the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023 (ECCTA). Whilst the ECCTA received Royal Assent in October 2023, the provision expanding these powers came into effect on 15 January this year. 

The ECCTA amends Section 2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 which, along with Section 2, provides for the SFO’s power to compel the provision of information and documents. Compelled requests for information and documents sent pursuant to these provisions are known as “Section 2 Notices” and failure to comply with one is a criminal offence. 

The SFO’s power to compel information or documents from individuals and companies often plays a significant part in its ability to build cases. We anticipate that the expansion of the power to the pre-investigation stage for fraud and domestic bribery and corruption matters will result in a significant increase in Section 2 Notices. 

Such increase should have a knock-on impact on the number of formal investigations opened. However, resource constraints at the SFO may hinder the effective processing of the increased volume of information being received and therefore the ability to open more investigations. The SFO’s ability to use technology to assist in reviewing information received will no doubt be key to whether it is able to deal with such an increase in data.