Clause 98 - Money laundering: miscellaneous amendments

Part of Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 13 January 2005.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 4:45, 13 January 2005

At present, the tipping off offence is in respect of disclosures about money laundering that have already been made to NCIS. We have not had sufficient time to consider the new clause fully. I should like to get the views of NCIS and law enforcement on this matter. I would also want to ensure that the amendment would not tighten the tipping off offence in a way that was unacceptable. For example, a solicitor acting for a wife in divorce proceedings might feel professionally obliged to warn her that, as a result of what she told him about her husband's finances, he would need to make a disclosure and seek consent from NCIS under section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 if he continued to act for her. Such a warning might constitute tipping off under the new clause if, as a result of him telling the client, a subsequent criminal investigation is likely to be prejudiced. We need to consider the implications, and I would like to report back later, but the hon. Gentleman has raised issues that give us pause for thought.

Clause 98 is a tidying-up clause that addresses an anomaly identified by the legal and accountancy professions. Under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, a professional legal adviser advising a client is not obliged to disclose to NCIS information that they obtain from the client in privileged circumstances. The   definition of privileged circumstances does not cover the case in which a professional adviser passes to his nominated officer information that he has received in privileged circumstances. Passing the information would constitute disclosure and trigger the nominated officer's duty to tell NCIS. That would put a professional adviser in a dilemma of whether not to disclose to NCIS and risk a breach of the reporting requirements, or to disclose and risk a breach of professional privilege or other confidence intended to be protected. Clause 98 amends the Act so that the nominated officer is not obliged to disclose to NCIS when the professional legal adviser seeks advise for him on whether the facts known to him give rise to the need for a disclosure.

With that explanation and with what I have said about the hon. Gentleman's new clause, I hope that he will not press it and that the Committee will approve the clause.