The Law Society has urged the re-inclusion of the element of intent into money laundering offences.
In its response to the Home Office’s call for opinions on the current suspicious activity reports (SAR) regime, the Society said its members currently find themselves at risk of unintentionally committing a money laundering offence.
The Society also complained of a ‘fundamental lack of information’ from law enforcement agencies on what they should be looking out for.
Current National Crime Agency (NCA) guidelines state that those working in the ‘regulated sector’ commit an offence if they do not submit a SAR to the NCA if they know or suspect, or have reasonable grounds to know or suspect, that another individual or person is engaged in money laundering.
The Society said the threshold is too low for reporting suspicions and that solicitors need clarity stating they should report clients only if they suspect intent to launder money.
The response added: ‘We believe the resources of the NCA are better focused on money laundering in action. The [suggested] changes would reduce the administrative burden around consent requests while still providing law enforcement with information that will be useful in the fight against money laundering.’
The Society said solicitors have consistently raised the issue of receiving ‘minimal’ feedback about the SARs they make. Given the low threshold of requirement to report more information on whether suspicions were correct would be appreciated, added the Society.
According to the NCA, the number of SARs is rising each year. In 2013/14 more than 350,000 SARs were raised, of which more than 14,000 involved seeking consent to proceed.
In the year to October 2014, 82% of SARs were raised by banks, 12% by credit or other financial institutions, and the remainder from a range of regulated organisations.