Bill disadvantage for accountants

The Proceeds of Crime Bill, which has been hotly debated in the House of Commons, requires accountants to report suspicions to the National Criminal Intelligence Service if they become aware of possible law-breaking while advising a client.

Lawyers meanwhile will retain their legal professional privilege. Accountancy bodies are now quoting anecdotal evidence that lawyers may be attempting to exploit these differences when approaching potential clients.The ICAEW has called for accountants to be given a level playing field with lawyers.

Felicity Banks, secretary of the ICAEW’s business law committee, said: ‘Accountants should be available to advise clients on their legal position in confidence to the same degree as lawyers.’

The institute believes arrangements in the bill would be against the public interest and affect the level of compliance with the law among UK businesses because of the generally close relationship between company managers and their accountants.

The bill has reached its second reading in the House of Commons but home secretary David Blunkett is determined to get it through and into force in its current form. Meanwhile the Treasury continues its search for an accountant from the private sector to head up the new anti-money laundering terrorist finance unit that will be based with NCIS.


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