Solicitors and other professionals who collude with criminal gangs could face up to five years in prison under legislation to be proposed by the Home Office.
A serious crime bill, expected to be announced in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech, will create an offence of ‘participation in an organised crime group’ to catch professionals who assist gangsters.
Prosecutors will have to prove defendants had ‘reasonable grounds to suspect’ they were helping criminals carry out their activities
The bill will include tougher measures to seize criminal assets and to close loopholes that enable criminals to hang onto their gains.
The Home Office said lawyers, accountants and other professionals assist criminals by failing to ask questions about why their services are required and then claiming they were unaware of what was going on.
Home Office minister Karen Bradley said: ‘Nobody is above the law. But for too long corrupt lawyers, accountants and other professionals have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability.
‘This new offence sends out a clear message to those individuals - if you are helping to oil the wheels of organised crime, you will be prosecuted and face being jailed.’
President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, Nicola Hill, said the move was unnecessary. ‘There is already legislation to catch these people. All this will create is more red tape and legislation for those who abide by the rules.’
Chairman of the Law Society’s criminal law committee Richard Atkinson said: ‘Without seeing the detail it’s difficult to see how this will make significant difference to the way lawyers will behave.
‘Are they seeking to impose on lawyers and other professionals a duty to enquire into the workings of their clients?’