London law firm penalized for lapses in anti-money laundering training for its staff

The firm also failed to keep up-to-date AML documentation essential for its conveyancing operations

London law firm penalized for lapses in anti-money laundering training for its staff

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has fined Austen-Jones Solicitors, a South East London law firm, £ 15,200 for failing to adequately train staff in anti-money laundering (AML) regulations and maintain necessary AML documentation, The Law Society Gazette reported.

The sanction comes after the SRA discovered that the firm had not provided its employees with the requisite training on AML protocols or kept up-to-date AML documentation essential for its conveyancing operations. The regulatory scrutiny intensified when, during a routine engagement in 2020, the SRA required Austen-Jones Solicitors to submit a declaration confirming the presence of a risk assessment for their practices. The firm admitted its oversight in failing to conduct the assessment.

Further inspection in November 2022 revealed more extensive non-compliance issues. The SRA's supervisory team found that the firm had not implemented a comprehensive firm-wide risk assessment and had neglected to establish the necessary AML policies, controls, and procedures for nearly six years. This period of non-compliance spanned the firm's conveyancing activities, which are particularly vulnerable to money laundering risks and thus require stringent oversight.

The SRA criticized Austen-Jones Solicitors for not adhering to regulatory and legislative obligations over an unreasonable period. This lapse was serious given the firm's involvement in high-risk conveyancing work and the clear guidance and warnings provided by the SRA on the expectations for legal practices under AML regulations.

In determining the fine, the SRA considered the firm's annual domestic turnover, ultimately setting the penalty at 2.4 percent. Additionally, the firm was ordered to pay £ 1,350 in costs related to the investigation.

Despite these failures, the SRA acknowledged that Austen-Jones Solicitors had cooperated fully with the investigation, had taken steps to address the breaches promptly, and that there was no evidence of actual harm caused by these oversights.

This case is part of a broader enforcement trend following the SRA's adoption of enhanced fining powers, which now allow for penalties up to £ 25,000 and calculations based on a percentage of the firm's turnover. Since the introduction of these new powers last October, more than 20 firms have been fined for similar breaches of money laundering regulations.

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