What this means to Clients
A Solicitor owes a duty of confidentiality to all of his Clients, whether good or bad. However, there are circumstances where a higher duty is imposed by the law and where confidentiality must be compromised. If any Client comes into this office and tries to launder money through one of the thousands of ways it is possible to do this then that Client will forfeit the trust and confidence of his Solicitors. The trouble is, the Solicitor has to respond to a suspicion so that if he suspects a Client of attempting to use the Firm to launder money the Solicitor has a duty under the law to report the facts to the Metropolitan Police who have a Special Unit dedicated to tracking down the sources of dirty money.
The suspicion has to be a reasonable one. It may not always be correct, what may seem suspicious may subsequently turn out to be entirely innocent. The problem for the Solicitor is that he is judged as to his response by what happens later. This means that if it is thought he should have had a suspicion and failed to report that suspicion that Solicitor commits a criminal offence, which will almost invariably result in a custodial sentence.
Each Solicitors’ firm has two principal characters responsible for maintaining efficient procedures to prevent or cope with suspected money laundering. The Senior Principal is always primarily responsible and there is also a Reporting Principal.
Between them they have to ensure that all the staff in a firm and all the Principals are fully trained in Money Laundering detection procedures. This is why all new Clients will be asked to produce a satisfactory form of identification and, usually, a utility bill e.g. gas, electricity or Council Tax bill, addressed to the new client at his/her stated address. A copy of those documents will be maintained and will be available to the Police in the event of any investigation of a suspected offence under the Act.
Failing to maintain a proper system of recording, monitoring and training can lead to severe penalties, most often involving a custodial sentence for the Solicitors concerned.
Furthermore if a Solicitor has a suspicion and acts on that suspicion and reports it to the Metropolitan Police Unit (the National Crime Investigation Service) then that Solicitor cannot tell his Client what he has done or what he suspects. If he does so that Solicitor will commit another offence called "tipping off". If he commits that offence he will face imprisonment.
We have produced a highly sophisticated training and monitoring programme throughout the office. Any Client who attempts to deceive us with the object of using the proceeds of crime with our help, even if it is only to pay our bill with money where tax has not been paid, will be reported. We take the view that the legislation is harsh but a Client who is prepared to put the freedom and well being of Principals and staff in this Firm at risk will understand that the Principals have an overriding duty to ensure that the Firm is not used to advance criminal activities but is here to serve the interest of our Clients in a fearless way before the Courts and the law. If a Client has done something wrong, holds the proceeds of crime and tells his Solicitor that that is what he has done then the Solicitor can act for that Client in the light of that information. The Solicitor, nevertheless, has an obligation to notify NCIS.
These are fast moving times and the changes have been made in response to global terrorism and in response to the fact that money deriving from serious crime gets into circulation as a consequence of Solicitors and others not doing what they should to observe their higher duty to the Crown and country.
If any Client attempts to abuse the function for which we are in business then he or she can expect to be unmasked and given the consequences that we would suffer as a consequence if we did not do so. I can tell you that this policy will be pursued ruthlessly for the benefit of our upright Clients and the staff and Principals for whom I am responsible.