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THE LAW SOCIETY of Northern Ireland is under attack from lawyers who say they were not properly warned about the dangers of anti-money laundering legislation.
The Proceeds of Crime (NI) Order 1996 is aimed at stopping solicitors assisting criminals in retaining the proceeds of a serious crime, or perverting the course of justice by informing a suspect about an impending investigation.
But a spokesman for the Belfast Solicitors Association says the Law Society has given the Northern Ireland legal profession little direction on the order. "There has been very little concern or representation. Some solicitor is going to become the fall guy for inadvertently money laundering," he says.
He says the order also calls into question the client/solicitor relationship. "Solicitors are under obligation to tip off the authorities if they suspect a client. If this is not done, solicitors are subject to criminal prosecution. It is frightening."
John Baillie, chief executive of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, comments: "I believe some guidance was issued some time ago.
"We are about to embark on a programme of education and we have certain plans over the next few months."
Elliott Duffy Garrett senior partner Brian Garrett says: "In the Republic of Ireland solicitors are more alert to the money laundering issue. There needs to be publicity about this."
A Labour source admits: "I think there has probably not been enough education.
"This is a learning curve for solicitors, which goes against the culture of the solicitor and the client."