The Ministry of Justice has refused to divulge whether senior ministers have conversed imposing sanctions on City law firms acting for Russian clients.
Last week, Steve Reed MP, the shadow justice secretary, questioned Dominic Raab, lord chancellor, ‘whether he has had discussions with cabinet colleagues on the potential merits of sanctioning law firms working for Russian clients with cases in the English court system’.
James Cartlidge MP, junior justice minister, responded on behalf of the MoJ, saying: ‘Discussions on sanctions remain ongoing, but it is an important aspect of the rule of law that individuals can access legal advice.’
He said that lawyers who advise those subject to sanctions should acquire a licence from the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OSFI) and ‘operate under strict rules’, further noting: ‘There are severe penalties for breaches, including fines and potential imprisonment.
‘Many UK law firms are taking a strong stance against the deplorable actions of Russia and those linked to Putin’s regime, including winding down operations in Russia, reviewing client lists and carefully considering new work.’
Reed also questioned Raab what conversation he has had with the chancellor of the exchequer or the OFSI ‘on the matter of law firms representing clients that are linked directly or indirectly to the Russian state with pending legal cases in the English judicial system’.
In his reply, Cartlidge noted that MoJ officials are in ‘regular discussions’ with the OFSI and ‘other agencies and regulators to ensure the sanctions regime is adhered to in the legal services market’.
He also mentioned Solicitors Regulation Authority guidance which prompted solicitors of their legal requirements and professional obligations.
Cartlidge also added: ‘Legal sector regulators are coming together rapidly to look at what can be done to further improve the enforcement of the restrictions under the current sanction and anti-money laundering regime. They are already stepping up compliance monitoring and enforcement activity.’