Westminster update: Government proceeds with economic crime levy

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall

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What you need to know

1. Government proceeds with economic crime levy

On Wednesday 22 September, the Treasury published its response to the consultation on a new economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy alongside the draft legislation that will implement it.

The levy represents one part of the government's model for long-term resourcing for its Economic Crime Plan, which includes both public and private sector funding sources. The consultation sought views on the levy principles, what it should pay for, transparency, liability and which entities should pay the levy.

The Law Society objected to the levy in principle, with President I. Stephanie Boyce arguing it “effectively represents a tax on the provision of legal services, undermining the competitiveness of a key British industry at a time when the sector should be championed”.

The Law Society welcomes the news that small firms will be exempt from the levy, as we recommended, but continues to raise concerns about the scope of the payment bands proposed. The delay to the levy – with it now set to be implemented in 2023/24 – is also welcome, but the Law Society will continue to seek to amend the levy to minimise adverse effects on members' practices in the wake of the pandemic and Brexit.

2. Security Minister addresses TLS conference

On Tuesday 21 September, the Security Minister, Damian Hinds, opened the Law Society’s online Anti-money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference. He thanked the Law Society for the invite, and called The Law Society "a vital and highly-valued voice" noting our expertise in combatting money-laundering.

Hinds went on to say that serious and organised crime was a major threat, and talked about the scale of fraud and money laundering, before saying we need to look beyond the numbers, and consider the consequences for people.

He mentioned the public-private Economic Crime Plan, published in 2019, and said that collaboration was at the core of this plan. He thanked the Law Society, the other legal sector professional bodies, and private firms for their contribution – passing on information, shaping policy, and transmitting compliance requirements – with the central message being to keep it up. Hinds said that the vast majority in the legal sector are very diligent, but that a small number, through negligence or bad practice, enable offences to happen, and exhorted everyone to be vigilant.

Criminal behaviour is evolving, Hinds said, and the best way to combat this is by being agile and targeted. As such, the government is going to bring forward legislative proposals to enable better information sharing between businesses, to give law enforcement new powers to investigate, and to reduce the suspicious activity reports (SARs) burden on the regulated sector.

3. Dominic Raab sworn in as Lord Chancellor

On Thursday 23 September, Dominic Raab was sworn in as the new Lord Chancellor, having been awarded the position alongside Secretary of State for Justice and Deputy Prime Minister in the recent reshuffle. Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce spoke at the event, welcoming Raab’s background as a solicitor, and pledging to work with him to maintain the justice system.

The new Lord Chancellor opened his speech by thanking the judiciary “for keeping the wheels of the justice system rolling throughout this awful pandemic”. He went on to mention his qualification as a solicitor, and said he looks forward to “working with and supporting our brilliant legal professions, our solicitors and barristers, as we tackle the challenges we face together”.

Musing on his friendship with the previous Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, he thanked him for “his deep commitment to supporting the judiciary and the rule of law”. He then pledged that he would be “unflinching in upholding the long-held principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” and said that a commitment to the rule of law has been forged throughout his legal and political career.

He said he was keen to “build on the rapid innovations that the courts have overseen to help us tackle the impact of coronavirus – not least the rapid roll out of remote technology across the estate,” and that he wanted to maintain the “unrivalled international reputation for excellence that we have on these shores”.

4. New Lord Chancellor stands in at PMQs

Wednesday 22 September saw the Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab, stand in for Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Raab was questioned by Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, who focused on the rising cost of living and the impact of proposed cuts to universal credit on workers and families in her exchange. Responding to Rayner, Raab argued the government was supporting workers by creating high-paid jobs, and pointed to cuts to income tax and the introduction of the national living wage.

During questions from MPs, Shadow Victims and Youth Justice Minister, Anna McMorrin, called on Raab to bring forward the government’s Victims Bill, intended to enshrine victims’ rights into law, as quickly as possible, and attacked the government’s record on supporting victims in the justice system.

Raab criticised Labour for not supporting the sentencing provisions with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, currently before parliament, and pointed to recent announcements intended to support victims, including the recently published victims and girls strategy. He confirmed he would bring the Victims Bill forward soon.

Coming up

The House of Commons joins the Lords in recess for the party conference season next week. The House of Lords will return on 11 October, while the Commons will return on 18 October.

When parliament returns, the Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries.

The Judicial Review and Courts Bill

The bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons on 18 October.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

The bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on 14 September. It will begin its committee stage on 20 October.

Read our briefing for the bill

Environment Bill

The bill completed its report stage in the House of Lords on 15 September. It will have its third reading on 13 October.

Professional Qualifications Bill

The next stage of the bill will be its House of Lords report stage, the date of which is yet to be confirmed.

Read our briefing on the bill

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill

The bill had its third reading in the House of Lords on 14 September. The date of its second reading in the Commons is yet to be announced.

Building Safety Bill

The bill will continue its committee stage in the House of Commons on 19 October.

The Nationality and Borders Bill

The bill began its committee stage in the House of Commons on 21 September and will continue in committee on 19 October.

Read our briefing on the bill

Public Service Pension and Judicial Offices Bill

The bill will begin its committee stage in the House of Lords on 11 October.

If you made it this far...

We will be holding a programme of events at each of the political party conferences this year. If you are attending the conferences this year, please do join us.

  • For Labour Conference, Lubna Shuja will be speaking at our fringe event with the Society of Labour Lawyers and the Bar Council on Sunday 26 September titled “Broken justice – what next?”
  • At the Conservative party conference, our President I. Stephanie Boyce will be speaking at two events. On Monday 4 October, she'll be speaking at a fringe with the Legal Aid Practitioners group and LawWorks titled “Levelling Up Justice”. We'll also be holding a reception and panel discussion with the Society of Conservative Lawyers and the Bar Council on Tuesday 5 October titled “Global Britain: Leading with Legal”.

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