There are many organisations involved in investigating business-related crimes, and each has different powers at its disposal to collect information. Investigations may be carried out by the police, the National Crime Agency, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) or others, and each of these authorities will conduct an investigation slightly differently. When agencies work together, it can become more complicated to understand the powers they can use to gain information and to navigate your role in the investigation. Indeed, we sometimes act in cases where our client is having to deal with more than one investigating authority.
There are several types of evidence that can be used, and the specific evidence an investigator is seeking will depend on the nature of the investigation, the type of crime alleged to have been committed and the structure of the case that the agency is aiming to build. This can include any of the following:
There are several ways that these organisations may try to collect evidence - in most cases, this is done simply by requesting information from relevant people connected to the investigation. Some of these agencies have powers at their disposal that allow them to compel the disclosure of information. Whether you are a suspect, a witness or someone else connected to an investigation, it is important to understand these mechanisms and to know your rights when authorities ask you to provide evidence.
Here, the business crime and criminal defence experts at JMW Solicitors explain the legal powers that some agencies have to compel the disclosure of evidence, the rights of witnesses and suspects in these cases and the defensive options that a lawyer can provide.
Many agencies have the power to conduct interviews during an investigation, and some are authorised to carry out compelled interviews. Under most circumstances, witnesses and defendants are invited to attend an interview but are under no obligation to agree or provide any information. However, a compelled interview is one that you must attend, or face serious legal penalties if you do not.
You must also provide any information that is asked of you in order to avoid the risk of legal consequences, although there are some exceptions to this - for example, privileged information can remain confidential, and you are not legally obliged to answer any questions that are not relevant to the case.
It can be hard to navigate these complexities yourself, which is just one reason why it is vital to secure legal representation to accompany you to any interview, whether it is conducted by the police, the SFO, the National Crime Agency, HMRC or any equivalent authority. This also applies to interviews under caution - while you are free to refuse to answer questions during this type of interview, there are risks involved in doing this without legal advice from a specialist solicitor.
A criminal defence solicitor can help you to identify the questions you do not need to answer, prevent you from incriminating yourself - which is a risk even if you have not done anything wrong - and give you a sense of what to expect from the next stages of an investigation. If you need to build a defence, the team at JMW has a wealth of expertise in supporting clients through this process and can give you the best chance of mounting a successful defence.
For some of the more serious financial crimes, investigators might carry out dawn raids on one or more business or domestic premises. These raids are designed to catch organisations unawares and ensure that evidence is not destroyed, removed or tampered with before investigators can collect it. In particular, HMRC often carries out dawn raids when it suspects that tax fraud or related crimes have taken place.
Multiple locations may be raided at once in a coordinated effort. If your home or workplace is subject to this type of raid, there are several steps you should take immediately. It is important that you do not try to resist officers collecting evidence - call a solicitor immediately. The team at JMW can talk you through the process as it unfolds and make sure you protect your rights while remaining compliant with the laws that apply. We have prepared a detailed guide on HMRC dawn raids to advise businesses of their rights and responsibilities during this process.
Evidence collected during a dawn raid can be used in court, provided investigating officers fulfilled all of their legal obligations during the raid. If there were mistakes in how officers conducted themselves or in their evidence-gathering procedures, this can prevent evidence from being used in court proceedings. This can also form the foundation for a defence, in the event that charges are brought against you in connection with the investigation.
Some law enforcement authorities can apply for production orders, which is a court order that can be used to compel the disclosure of documents, materials, or information. While a production order may be issued against the subject of an investigation, it could also be used to obtain information from someone else - for example, it may be used to access information about a suspect’s financial transactions from their bank.
Production orders can be requested without notice to the person who possesses the evidence in question. This means that you may suddenly be met with a demand to relinquish documents without any prior warning. In these cases, it may be prudent to speak to a solicitor - especially if you are the subject of the documents or are involved in a criminal investigation.
In some cases, it is possible to challenge a production order and have it discharged or varied, removing or amending your legal obligation to provide the requested documents. A solicitor can advise you through this process and help you to build a defence in circumstances where this is necessary.
The methods described above involve particular procedures and applications, managed by reference to codes of conduct. However, perhaps the most common method of evidence gathering is a straightforward request for assistance.
Most evidence is gathered voluntarily from individuals and businesses, supported by a witness statement from the relevant investigator or person providing the information. The way in which this evidence is gathered still needs to be the subject of scrutiny to ensure its admissibility in the proceedings. We often advise potential witnesses (including organisations and individuals) on whether they should disclose the requested information and if so, how it should be done.
The Business Crime, Criminal Defence and Regulatory team at JMW has a track record of success in defending people and businesses during investigations by many authorities, including the police, HMRC, the Health and Safety Executive, the SFO, the Competition and Markets Authority, and more. If you have been asked to attend a compelled interview, been served a production order or found yourself subject to a dawn raid, contact us at once to begin building your defence. Call us on 0345 872 6666 or use our online enquiry form to request a call back at your convenience.