Generally solicitors are under a professional and legal obligation to keep the affairs of the client confidential. This obligation however is subject to a statutory exception. In common with other professions and many other types of businesses the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 together with the Money Laundering Regulations 2003 have combined to impose significant responsibilities on solicitors to ensure that every transaction is reviewed in terms of the Money Laundering legislation which is designed to track the proceed of crime (which includes not only money arising from drug trafficking or major crime but also from tax evasion benefit fraud unauthorised directors loans and any money or assets arising from a breach of the law or statutory regulations).
The checks we are required to carry out include establishing the identity of each client (and in the case of corporate clients their directors/shareholders) and the source and ultimate destination of funds property or other assets involved in the particular transaction. If we have reason to suspect that a transaction involves the proceeds of any form of crime we are required by law to report that transaction to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). We are however prohibited by law from advising clients that we have made such report where such disclosure could prejudice an investigation. There are significant criminal penalties for solicitors who fail to comply with the legislation.
The circumstances requiring us to made disclosures to the SOCA may involve our client, or other parties to a transaction, or third parties. If we are obliged by law to make to a disclosure to the SOCA we are prohibited from acting further in relation to a matter without the consent of the SOCA. It is possible that there might be a delay in our being able to proceed further or we may have to cease to act. However, provided that we have acted in good faith, we shall not be liable to you for any consequences of our suspending or ceasing to act on your behalf, to the maximum extent permissible by law.
It is therefore one of our terms of business that our client acknowledge that we have the right to make such enquires and investigation about them as we think fit in order for us to be able to make a proper evaluation of the transaction at the outset. This includes obtaining evidence of identity in respect of each client and the right to be provided with evidence from accountants or other financial advisers in order to verify the source and destination of funds or property. If a client fails to co-operate fully with our request in this respect we would have no option but to cease acting for the client but without prejudice to our right to charge for work undertaken and for disbursements properly incurred prior to ceasing to act.
With the exception of the above, all information and documents entrusted to us by you will be treated as confidential and except as may be necessary for the proper conduct of your business or unless required by law will not be divulged by the firm to any other person without your prior consent whether express or implied.
In view of these increased responsibilities we can no longer accept payment of cash from clients of amount in excess of Â£500. Please ensure that all sums, which you are required to pay to us, are provided by cheque or preferably by direct bank transfer to our client account, the details of which will be provided when required.
If you are not an existing client for whom we already have identification on record we must ask you to produce to us documents as evidence of identity. We require you to produce to us your passport or a new-form driving licence and a bank statement, utility bill or Council Tax bill bearing your residential address and in all cases not more than 3 months old. These must be produced to us personally so that we can prepare certified copies for retention. If for any reason you are unable to bring the documents to us yourself or you do not have one of the items specified please contact us to discuss what alternative arrangement can be put in place.
If you are instructing us as a director of a company we are obliged to carry out a Company Registry search for which there will be a charge and we shall require from you personally the evidence of identity referred to above. We may also request evidence of identity to be provided by one or more of your co-directors.
If evidence of identity is required and is not provided to us within 14 days of our starting to act we will not be able to take further steps in the matter until the evidence of identity has been produced to us.