Laws to crack down on corrupt solicitors who collude with organised criminals are unnecessary and could result in innocent people being convicted, the Law Society warned today as the government announced plans for the measure.
The Serious Crimes Bill would 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 also include tougher measures to seize criminal assets and to close loopholes that enable criminals to hold onto their gains.
Responding to the widely trailed measure, the Society’s president Nicholas Fluck said he had ‘no sympathy’ for rogue solicitors but warned the offence needed to be carefully examined.
He said the statutory and regulatory obligations that already apply to solicitors are extensive, and questioned whether new laws will make any practical difference.
The offence, he said, needs to be examined carefully in relation to the issue of criminal intent.
If the prosecution is required only to show that an accused had ‘reasonable grounds to suspect they were helping a crime group carry out its activities’, the accused would then have to prove that they were not, reversing the burden of proof.
This, warned Fluck, could result in innocent people being convicted.
The bill will also create an offence of possession of paedophilic manuals and introduce tougher sentences for cyber criminals. An offence of causing psychological harm to children through parental neglect will also be created.
Other measures in the Queen’s Speech include:
- A modern slavery bill, consolidating offences and increasing the sentences for the most serious offences to life. Courts will be able to order the confiscation of the assets of those convicted and compensation for the victims. A coordinated response to the issue by law-enforcement agencies will be overseen by an anti-slavery commissioner.
- An infrastructure bill to simplify planning law. This will include measures to give Land Registry of England and Wales wider powers and pave the way for part-privatisation.
- Measures to reduce delays in employment tribunals.
- A statute to create a public register of beneficial owners of companies.