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Three-partner firm slapped with £23k fine for AML oversights
4 March 2024

A firm operating from two small offices in the south west has been hit with a £23,000 fine for failing to comply with money laundering regulations.

Batchelor Sharp, which has bases in Bristol and Yate, was issued with the sanction – almost the maximum the Solicitors Regulation Authority can impose – despite there being no evidence any harm caused.

According to its website, the firm has a staff of just six including three solicitors. The level of fine was set at around 1.6% of its annual turnover,

The SRA said it had carried out a desk-based AML review at the firm last March to assess compliance with the regulations from 2017. Five files were found with no client or matter risk assessments. The firm accepted it had not completed any such risk assessment on files prior to March 2023.

The regulator said the breach of regulatory obligations had persisted for ‘longer than was reasonable’ and demonstrated a ‘pattern of non-compliance’. The firm’s conduct, it was stated, had the potential to cause serious harm to the public interest and to public confidence in the legal profession.

It was accepted that the firm had not acted dishonestly or lacked integrity and there was no significant harm caused by the firm’s failings. It had made admissions, cooperated with the SRA and had remedied the breaches.

The firm was also ordered to pay £1,350 costs.

The SRA has issued several five-figure fines since increasing its fining powers to £25,000 in 2022. The largest such sanction to date was against Ilford firm TTS Legal which was fined £23,216 in January after a failure to check the source of funds on three property transactions. Again in that case there was no evidence of harm to consumers and the firm had since improved its compliance measures.

Source: The Law Society Gazette, 4th March 2024

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