Two more firms have been fined four-figure sums as the Solicitors Regulation Authority continues its crackdown on anti-money laundering non-compliance.
In separate agreed outcomes, Oxfordshire firm Angel Wilkins and Bolton practice Oakmount Law Solicitors were fined £7,900 and £3,120 respectively. The sums were based on the turnover of each business.
A desk-based review into Angel Wilkins found the firm lacked a compliant risk assessment for more than five years. The risk assessment provided to the SRA was found not to cover each of the five key areas required. An updated document was provided in June which is now compliant.
Over the same period, the SRA said the firm also failed to have in place compliant policies, controls and procedures to mitigate and manage the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing. This was particularly important as 90% of the firm’s turnover was from conveyancing transactions.
‘It was incumbent on the firm to meet the requirements set out in the MLRs 2017,’ said the SRA. ‘The firm failed to do so. The public would expect a firm of solicitors to comply with its legal and regulatory obligations to protect against these risks as a bare minimum.’
There was no evidence of harm to consumers or third parties and the firm did not financially benefit from the misconduct. Angel Wilkins assisted the SRA throughout the investigation, admitted the breaches and has shown remorse. The regulator said there was a low risk of the misconduct being repeated. No serious issues were identified with any of the sampled files, save for some additional source of funds guidance required on three files.
In the case of Oakmount, the firm admitted in a questionnaire to the SRA that it had been using a general risk assessment as its firm-wide AML assessment. This did not meet the requirements of the regulations as it was not tailored to the firm and did not address key risk factors.
The firm’s policies and procedures were also not compliant and found in some parts to lack sufficient detail. An updated set of policies and a risk assessment are now in place.
Again, there was no evidence of any harm to consumers or third parties, no financial benefit and a low risk of repetition. The firm took urgent steps to rectify non-compliant documents and cooperated with the SRA investigation.
The SRA has made it clear that it will sanction firms that still fail to meet government-imposed regulations. In the year to 5 April 2023, it took action against 47 firms and individuals. Two weeks ago, National firm Ashfords LLP received the fourth biggest fine in SRA history for compliance failures, despite no suggestion that any money laundering or other financial crime took place.
Source: The Law Society Gazette, 15 December 2023