Sentence lengths for money laundering offences increased by almost 10% last year, as prosecutors seek to crack down on financial crime, new figures show. 

The average prison sentence for money laundering offences rose to 27 months in 2018, up from 25 months in 2017, according to research by Thomson Reuters.

Over the past 10 years, average sentence lengths have risen by more than 30%, from 20.5 months in 2008. In that time, 5,082 criminals were sentenced for money laundering offences.

New sentencing guidelines were issued in 2014 that allowed prosecutors to push for longer sentences up to the statutory maximum of 14 years. Prosecutors also have the right to appeal sentences if they consider them to be too lenient.

Baker McKenzie partner Charles Thomson said: ‘It seems as though judges are more willing than ever to accept prosecutions’ cases that money laundering offences deserve some of the harshest punishments available.

'The courts will hope that longer sentences will deter professionals in the financial and professional services sector who might be tempted to assist illegal finances. It is those people that can enable money laundering to occur on a truly damaging scale and cost the average UK household £255 a year.'

In a blog for international firm Pinsent Masons, senior associate Fiona Cameron wrote: 'The increasing use of custodial sentences is likely to make companies focus on compliance with regulations...Immediate custodial sentences are no longer reserved for the most flagrant breaches and are becoming increasingly commonplace for a variety of regulatory misdemeanours. With such high stakes at play, compliance issues cannot be ignored.'