Anti-money laundering supervisors across the UK legal sector have warned that a new report published by the Home Office and HM Treasury on the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing lacks balance and, by its own admission, is not backed up by robust intelligence

Responding to the National Risk Assessment (NRA) – a government evaluation of money laundering risks in the UK – legal professionals across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said the level of engagement with the legal sector by those charged with drafting the report was not as thorough as the government had hoped.

Anti-money laundering experts in the UK legal profession have called for better engagement between the government and legal sector so that future versions of the National Risk Assessment articulate a more balanced view of the professions, supervisors and law enforcement.

The services provided by lawyers involving high value transactions can expose them to money laundering risk. Legal professionals working on the coal face of money laundering prevention require law enforcement agencies to be more active in sharing intelligence so that they can keep abreast of ever-changing criminal scams to manage that risk and prevent attempts to abuse legal professional services for financial gain.

According to the National Crime Agency the legal sector has made more information available to its members with respect to tackling money laundering, than any other sector. However, representative bodies for lawyers are warning that spotting scams is a continual challenge.

Commenting on the NRA report, Law Society President Jonathan Smithers said: “The UK Anti Money Laundering (AML) regime is one of the toughest in the world, offering clients high levels of protection. We are therefore disappointed that this misleading report has designated the legal sector as high risk. Shortcomings in the intelligence gathering in preparing this report has resulted in what we believe is a misleading assessment. We want to work with the intelligence agencies to address this. We also want to work with the government to ensure future versions of the National Risk Assessment represent a more balanced view of the professions, supervisors and law enforcement.”

He added: “While the identification, arrest and prosecution of legal professionals complicit in money laundering is crucial, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that lawyers’ role is overstated both in this report and in the government’s Organised Crime Strategy. The claimed impact of ‘professional enablers’ is not supported by arrest or prosecution statistics.”

Constructive engagement with the NCA, HM Treasury, the Home Office and all other relevant government and law enforcement agencies is essential as an Action Plan to address the genuine risks facing the legal sector is developed ahead of the FATF Mutual Evaluation Review of the UK’s AML regime to take place in 2017.