Government to keep lawyers out of Russia services ban

Cartlidge: Defending right to legal representation

The government has indicated that legal services will not be added to the ban on services exports to Russia that encompasses accountancy, management consultancy and PR.

Justice minister James Cartlidge said last week that legal services were “distinct from other services” because of the role they played in “supporting a flourishing democracy and upholding the rule of law”.

The government ban on other services, announced earlier this month, was aimed at ratcheting up economic pressure on Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Our professional services exports are extraordinarily valuable to many countries, which is exactly why we’re locking Russia out.”

Legal services were notable by their absence from the list and last week Mr Cartlidge answered a question in Parliament from fellow Conservative Daniel Kawczynski about what steps the Ministry of Justice was taking to ensure UK law firms did not undertake work that supported the Russian state.

Mr Cartlidge said: “Legal services are distinct from other services in the role they play in supporting a flourishing democracy and upholding the rule of law. Access to legal professionals is considered a fundamental right in democratic societies. It enables businesses and individuals to exercise their rights and comply with their duties.

“We only have to look at Russia – where corruption is rife and government critics are silenced – to see why the rule of law is so important. Here in the UK, rule of law means that everyone has a right to access legal representation.

“The government needs to defend these rights – in contrast to authoritarian jurisdictions.”

The minister stressed the importance of the legal sector to the operation of an effective sanctions regime.

“Law firms have a responsibility to protect the reputation of their profession and the integrity of our legal system,” he continued. “The Ministry of Justice is confident that the overwhelming majority of law firms operate to the highest ethical standard.”

Mr Cartlidge noted that lawyers already faced “significant” anti-money laundering responsibilities and duties, as well as strict procedures when dealing with sanctioned individuals, including within the Russian state, meaning that licenses from the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation were required for payments to be made to law firms for legal services.

He added that the Solicitors Regulatory Authority has “stepped up spot checks and investigations to monitor and enforce compliance with the sanctions regime”.

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