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British lawyers oppose reforms to the new Economic Crime Bill that increases their accountability

It has been suggested that several provisions of the UK's recently released Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill run the danger of "confusing" the function of attorneys.

The Bar Council, which represents barristers, said that measures in the Economic Crime Bill that would amend the Legal Services Act 2007 to include a "regulatory objective" would be "incompatible" with the obligations of barristers.

According to proposals, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and Legal Standards Board (LSB) would have to "create a new workstream to their regulatory duties, at additional cost which may have to be passed onto clients" in order to "promote the prevention and detection of economic crimes to the LSA."

The Bar Council stated that it is "not the role of legal professionals to prevent or detect crime," hence it is opposed to the addition of the regulatory purpose.

In addition to calling it a "broad-brush approach" that was "unlikely to have any impact on tackling economic crime," the organization claimed it was "unclear" how it would be compatible with the function of attorneys in counseling or advocating for their clients.

Mark Fenhalls KC, chair of the Bar Council, stated: "Tackling economic crime is essential but creating more regulation will do nothing to address the problem."

"The legal professions are already subject to targeted anti-money laundering legislation," therefore he said, "a new regulatory objective may not be compatible with our role in representing clients. At worst it sends the wrong message to the general public about the role of lawyers."

"We’re calling on the Government to amend the Bill as it passes through Parliament. Government should focus on the real problem – fix the issues with Action Fraud and properly fund the investigation and prosecution of economic crime," according to Mr. Fenhalls.

Some individuals in the AFC and Compliance fields have, however, criticized the Bar Council's position.

The company secretary of Numitor Limited, Jane Jee, said on Linkedin: "Not the role of lawyers to stop financial crime? There are times when I despair of the legal profession’s attitude."

"Of course anyone accused of a criminal offence needs to be represented (as they are innocent until proven guilty), but many law firms are prepared to turn a blind eye when it comes to otherwise acting in civil matters (e.g. SLAPPS, buying property etc.) for the most reprehensible characters," she continued.



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