The US Department of Justice has reportedly made a formal request for mutual legal assistance (“MLA”) to the UK Home Office to facilitate the questioning of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein.
Mr Epstein, who died while in custody last year, is alleged to have been at the centre of a sex-trafficking network which is the subject of an ongoing investigation by New York prosecutors. One of the complainants in the Epstein case, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has told police that she and the Duke had sex on three separate dates while she was underage, allegations which the Duke denies.
The Home Office does not, as a longstanding matter of policy, comment on MLA requests (which are treated as confidential) and so the substance of the request remains unknown. Whether US officials will accept a written response to questions, or would require the Duke to attend a nominated court to answer questions under oath under the procedure set out in the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003, remains to be seen. Were the latter course to be adopted, the court has the power to exclude the public from proceedings and the Duke could not be compelled to answer questions which might incriminate him.
The request is reported to have been made in April 2020, and Home Office guidance states that it will consider all requests for MLA within 30 days.