A UN recommendation that governments should regulate lawyers in line with ‘the demands of sustainable finance and the public interest’ has raised concerns among the international legal profession. Sternford Moyo, president of the International Bar Association, said he could not agree with the recommendation, which appears in a report by a panel on financial accountability measures aimed at meeting the UN's 2030 sustainable development goals. 

The so-called FACTI report examined issues such as financial and beneficial ownership transparency; tax matters; bribery and corruption; money laundering; confiscation and disposal of the proceeds of crime; and the recovery and return of stolen assets.

Moyo said: ‘While the ambitious and transformational vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to be applauded, government regulation of the legal profession is not a proposal with which the IBA, as the global voice of the legal profession, can concur. Naturally, the IBA is committed to the fight against financial crime but providing governments with oversight of the legal profession as a remedy is of great concern.’

He added: ‘In functioning democracies, an independent legal profession is a much-valued cornerstone of the rule of law. Unfortunately, where governments wish to silence dissent, we have witnessed many instances of the abuse of regulatory power, with lawyers being jailed for carrying out their professional duties, simply because they represent a client who is critical of the government or head of a nation. The news reports are numerous and impossible to ignore. An independent legal profession, free from governmental interference, is essential.’

The IBA is a long-standing critic of moves by governments to regulate the legal profession 'in the public interest'. It has previously cited the Legal Services Board in England and Wales as an example of ‘external involvement in the regulatory scheme’.