The bar has poured further scorn on plans to set up new anti-money laundering quango, saying its members could be asked to foot the bill for a body that is irrelevant to most of their practices.
The Bar Council said the ‘low-risk’ profile of the bar must be taken into account when determining the level of fees to pay for the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS), for which it is said there is ‘little justification’.
‘There is no reason why a barrister who does not undertake work within the regulated sector should pay a levy to fund a body that is required because of threats posed by the activities of estate agents or accountants,’ the council said in its response to a consultation.
OPBAS is being set up by the Financial Conduct Authority to oversee the adequacy of supervisory arrangements at 22 professional bodies. These include the Law Society and Bar Council. Each body will be charged a fee to cover the office’s running costs.
The Law Society has already lambasted the scheme, saying that practising certificate fees would have to rise to foot the bill, which the FCA says could be between £15 and £25 per regulated individual.
The FCA proposes to charge a fee of £5,000 from bodies applying to be added to the list of organisations under the body’s oversight, along with a ‘fairly distributed’ annual fee. Its ‘working assumption’ is that OPBAS will need to recover £2.5m in 2018/19 and 2019/20 and £2m per year from 2020/21 onwards.
However, the Bar Council said no justification or breakdown had been given for the proposed costs and, echoing the Law Society, called for a full consultation on OPBAS' strategy, business plan and final fee level.
‘Given their size, a detailed cost breakdown must be made available so that those bodies who are being asked to foot the bill can analyse it and provide input into the necessity of the resources that they are being charged for,’ the council said. ‘No public body is entitled to levy a fee upon persons given no option but to pay it without providing proper transparency in respect of that fee.’
The bar's response also pointed out that the majority of self-employed barristers do not undertake work within the scope of money laundering regulations. It added that 'there are no historic examples in the public domain of barristers engaging in money laundering or terrorist financing activities on behalf of their clients'.
The FCA is expected to publish feedback and final rules on fees in February or March.