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SFO Reach Settlement Over Inadvertent Disclosure of National Party Documents

On 12 May 2020, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) inadvertently disclosed two documents to the defendants in the National Party donations case. Those documents contained confidential information regarding donors to the National Party in 2017 and 2018. They were disclosed in error during the course of the SFO’s compliance with its normal disclosure obligations.

The SFO did not become aware of the error until 26 July 2020, when Mr Ross reported that he was in possession of the documents and expressed an intention to refer to the documents in the House of Representatives and to take legal advice about releasing them publicly if that was unsuccessful.

On 29 July 2020, the SFO brought an urgent ex parte application seeking orders requiring that Mr Ross refrain from publicly referring to the documents and requiring that they be destroyed. Interim orders were made against Mr Ross that day, without him having any opportunity to defend the application. Mr Ross asserts that the materials were subject to the Parliamentary privilege that applies to material that is connected to proceedings in Parliament (ss 9 and 10 of the Parliamentary Privilege Act 2014) and that he could not be ordered to destroy them.

Rather than continue to litigate the merits of that issue, however, the parties have reached a resolution, under which Mr Ross has agreed to destroy the electronic copy of the documents in his possession and to provide the hard copy to his counsel so that they can be held securely and only released (with prior notice to the SFO) for a proper purpose. This agreement in no way reflects any criticism of Mr Ross and/or his conduct in relation to these documents.

As a consequence of this resolution, the parties have agreed that the Court should rescind the initial order made by Jagose J on 29 July 2020. The Court has been invited to do so.

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