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In-house lawyers must take a more robust approach to protecting whistle-blowers and be prepared to speak out against bad management decisions, HBOS’ former risk management head Paul Moore has warned.
Moore, a barrister formerly of 2 Crown Office Row, was sacked by the bank in 2004 after raising concerns about it taking excessive risks.
Speaking exclusively to The Lawyer in the week that amendments to UK legislation will provide for greater protections for whistleblowers, Moore called upon senior lawyers to become more visible within their own institutions.
“For lawyers to manage risk they’ve got to get involved right at the front end of the equation,” he said, adding: “The first task for any professional adviser is to understand the business thoroughly, because when you do, people will come to you early with issues. This is something US in-house lawyers have done really well.”
In-house lawyers need to be risk managers who are able to answer the demands of senior management quickly to inspire confidence, he continued.
However, warned Moore, many in-house lawyers are too far removed from their executives, when reality demands that they get under the skin of their business. Moore believes there is a strong case for the integration of the legal, risk and compliance roles a “unified control function” within companies.
“I don’t think the control function should report to the executive board at all; it should report to the non-executive,” he said. “That is for the obvious reason that if a whistleblower raises the red flag and the board doesn’t like it, they chop heads off. That happens all the time.”
Moore himself is understood to have secured a six-figure settlement from HBOS after he was “summarily dismissed” as the head of the group regulatory risk function at HBOS by James Crosby, who was the bank’s chief executive until 2006.
He said greater protections were needed for professionals whose job it is to speak up when regulatory and ethical breaches begin to emerge.
“It is one thing to pay compensation to people who have been fired, but it is much better to prevent them from being fired in the first place,” he said.
“If someone in that category speaks up, they should not be dismissed until there has been a full minuted meeting of the non-executives. And individuals concerned should have the right to representation at that that meeting, so they can bring their own lawyer or whomever they like.”
On Wednesday (25 June) new legislation will be implemented to bring in a new raft of protections for whistleblowers. Chief among these are plans to allow individual staff members to be held joint and severally liable for behaviour towards those who speak out.