Solicitors today described as 'a drop in the ocean' the boost for criminal justice promised in Rishi Sunak's first budget today - and expressed concern at several of the chancellor's other announcements.
'Austerity is not ending in the justice sector,' Law Society president Simon Davis warned, 'and while £23m has been made available for the "wider justice system" including a £5m trial of specialist courts for domestic abuse cases, £15m to improve the government’s offer to victims and £3m for the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice process, it is a drop in the ocean and does not come close to the hundreds of millions cut from legal aid.'
On the economic crime levy to be introduced following a consultation this spring, Davis said: 'Solicitors play an important role in the battle against money laundering and the Law Society - as the named supervisory body - shares the government's objectives in having a robust regime in place. Our sector already devotes substantial resources to fighting financial crime. Now plans for a levy, to be paid by firms subject to the Money Laundering Regulations, have been announced I would urge ministers to ensure that any plans are evidence based, and do not inadvertently distract resources from the fight against economic crime.'
Specialist solicitors warned that the levy, proposed for organisations falling under current money laundering regulations, could amount to a new burden on the profession.
Christopher David, counsel in international firm WilmerHale’s UK white collar defence and investigations practice, said: 'The UK regulated sector already faces one of the most onerous anti-money laundering regimes in the world and this additional levy will undoubtedly be a further burden. The government must be careful to ensure that this is not just another tax on the financial services sector and law firms, the proceeds of which are distributed in an opaque and unfocused manner.'
Alan Milford, criminal litigation partner at London firm Kingsley Napley, said: 'The government will shortly consult on a levy to invest in the fight against money laundering and economic crime. Earlier reports suggested the aim is to boost funding of technology and investigators which is all very well, but if correct, addresses only one piece of the puzzle. The government needs also to ensure investment in extra prosecutors and a proper functioning court service to deal with money laundering and fraud cases effectively. Only with investment across the system will the authorities really be able to boast about a significant ramping up of the war on dirty money and financial crime.'