“Corrupt lawyers” who help who organised crime gangs and hide behind a “veneer of respectability” will be targeted by a new offence, the Home Office announced yesterday.
It is understood that the offence of “participation in an organised crime group” will feature in a serious crime bill in today’s Queens Speech. Those convicted face up to five years behind bars and further civil measures.
“Nobody is above the law,” said Karen Bradley, minister for modern slavery and organised crime. “But for too long corrupt lawyers, accountants and other professionals have tried to evade justice by hiding behind a veneer of respectability.
“This new offence sends out a clear message to those individuals – if you are helping to oil the wheels of organised crime, you will be prosecuted and face being jailed.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said that while the UK had “one of the world’s most effective regimes for ensuring criminals do not profit from crime”, £1.48bn was outstanding in unpaid confiscation orders.
The single biggest outstanding amount was over £57m, including interest, resulting from an order granted in 2007 and being enforced by the Serious Fraud Office.
As a result, the Home Office said it was introducing tougher asset seizure powers and sanctions, including increasing prison sentences for failing to pay, ending early release if criminals fail to co-operate and reducing the maximum time to pay orders from 12 to six months.
The Home Office released a set of real, anonymised case studies showing how the new measures could work, none of them involving corrupt lawyers.
In one of them, members of an organised crime gang were convicted of importing drugs from Holland in 2013. Associates, such a man who hired vans for the group, could have been prosecuted under the new participation offence if he had reasonable grounds for suspecting that he was helping the group.
In another case, a man who acted as courier for a gang, carrying Class A drugs, could have been prosecuted.