Leigh Crestohl comments on the High Court's first judicial review of the UK's main sanctions regime

March 23 2023

Leigh Crestohl's comments were featured in Law360 here (behind a paywall).

The recent High Court decision in LLC Synesis v Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office [2023] EWHC 541 (Admin) marks the first time the courts have conducted a judicial review of the UK's main sanctions regime.

The case arose under the sanctions regime against Belarus, but involves the same statutory framework as the Russian sanctions (SAMLA), with the Belarus sanctions regulation being very similar to the current regime in force against Russia.

LLC Synesis was designated on the basis that one of its subsidiaries had developed and operated software technology that it sold to Belarus law enforcement authorities as a "find and track" system. There were reports that a particular opposition dissident was identified using the software and then arbitrarily detained and tortured.

Synesis challenged the credibility of the evidence relied upon by the Secretary of State to designate it under the Regulations. In particular, it was argued that there were not "reasonable grounds to suspect" that Synesis was an "involved person" for the operation of the Regulations and the designation criteria, and that there was no credible evidence that showed that it had played any role in the capture of the dissident or anybody else.

Partner Leigh Crestohl commented:

"This is a significant decision, being the first reported case of a challenge to a sanctions designation under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 reaching the High Court. It will also give an indication of how subsequent cases under the Russian regulations may be treated, given the similarity of the underlying legislation. 

"As an initial reported judgment in this area, it may signal that in deciding reviews under s.38 of SAMLA, the Administrative Court will give a large measure of deference to the Government before interfering in decisions to designate individuals under sanctions regulations. The legislator has, perhaps deliberately, drafted the designation criteria in broad terms and it will be increasingly difficult for the parties to demonstrate the absence of at least some body of information sufficient to justify a designation. In future, parties may be expected instead to concentrate more on showing a lack of “proportionality” in judicial review terms about which, unfortunately, this decision provides little guidance."

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