The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have announced fines totalling over £55,000 against several firms and individual lawyers for violating anti-money laundering (AML) requirements.  

The fines underscore the regulator’s commitment to upholding AML standards within the legal profession. 

Solicitors Regulation Authority Confirm Several Fines

Batchelor Sharp: A Pattern of Non-Compliance 

Bristol-based firm Batchelor Sharp were handed the biggest penalty, receiving a substantial fine of £23,035. The SRA highlighted that the firm failed to complete client or matter risk assessments on its files before March 2023, demonstrating a persistent pattern of non-compliance.  

While the fine approached the regulatory limit, the SRA acknowledged Batchelor Sharp’s lack of dishonesty and proactive steps toward AML compliance, placing their conduct at the lower end of the fine bracket. 

Burrows: Inconsistent Oversight 

North-West London firm Burrows incurred a fine just under £13,000 for lacking a firm-wide risk assessment and fully compliant policies, controls, and procedures (PCPs) between June 2017 and March 2022.  

The SRA noted the absence of client and matter risk assessments on five sampled files. Interestingly, despite falling into the same fine band as Batchelor Sharp, Burrows’ penalty was positioned in the middle at 2.4% of turnover, revealing inconsistencies in the details of the SRA’s notices. 

Fitzpatrick & Co: AML Compliance Lapses 

Kolawole Babatunde Idowu, partner and owner of South-East London firm Fitzpatrick & Co, faced penalties amounting to £2,376. The SRA identified seven property sales that HM Land Registry initially refused to register due to concerns about identification and verification documents.  

Additionally, Mr. Idowu was found responsible for compliance breaches related to the firm’s accounts rules, with two payments totalling £34,000 not linked to the underlying legal transactions. The SRA deemed the misconduct ‘more serious,’ citing a medium impact/risk of harm. 

Leonard Solicitors: Conveyancing Misconduct 

Siamak Goudarzi of Southampton firm Leonard Solicitors was fined £18,750 for multiple AML breaches during conveyancing transactions between December 2020 and January 2022.  

His misconduct included allowing the client account to be used as a banking facility, failing to conduct proper due diligence on four files, and undertaking reserved legal activity without a qualified supervisor. Despite the breaches, the SRA acknowledged Goudarzi’s efforts to remediate the harm caused by his actions and bring the firm into compliance. 

A Rude Awakening and Reminder for Others 

Each fined firm and lawyer have been mandated to pay the SRA costs of £1,350, emphasising the financial repercussions accompanying AML compliance breaches. The regulatory actions highlight the SRA’s commitment to maintaining the integrity of the legal profession and protecting the public interest.  

Legal practitioners are urged to prioritise and adhere to AML regulations to avoid financial penalties and potential harm to public confidence in the legal sector. 

Solutions are Available to Tackle Compliance Challenges

The fines demonstrate the SRA’s firm stance against regulation breakers. Firms and legal professionals will face the consequences should they fail to comply. However, all these fines were very unavoidable given the solutions available to law firms including technological products changing the landscape of how clients are onboarded.  

Verify 365 is uniquely positioned as the best AML technology platform for law firms facing the increasing scrutiny and potential fines for Anti-Money Laundering non-compliance by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. As the only AML platform in the world designed by solicitors for solicitors, it offers an unparalleled technology tailored to the specific needs of law firms and estate agents, ensuring compliance while enhancing client onboarding and due diligence processes.

Verify 365 risk & compliance platform distinguishes itself with its innovative approach to client verification through “Lite” checks, which provide dashboard-based, quick AML verifications, and “Enhanced” Client Due Diligence (CDD), the comprehensive AML suite. The Enhanced CDD checks include biometric/NFC ID verification, address validation, politically exposed persons (PEPs) and sanctions and adverse media checks, and FCA-regulated Open Banking source of funds checks (4000 banks) along with sophisticated financial analytics. This enables law firms to conduct exhaustive and compliant AML and client due diligence swiftly and efficiently.

Verify 365 stands out from the competition due to its commitment to security and innovation, with all technology and software developed and maintained in-house in the UK. This ensures the utmost security for client data, stored on highly secure UK servers. The platform’s pioneering biometric and NFC technology, DynamicID, along with compliance from day one with the HM Land Registry Safe Harbour Digital ID standard, underscores its status as a leader in legal tech solutions.