Taskforce on Business Ethics and the Legal Profession
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 catalysed discussion in the media, parliament and within the legal profession itself on the choices made by law firms when taking on or retaining clients in circumstances other than for criminal defence. At the heart of this issue are questions about the values underpinning the legal profession, how those values relate to the rule of law and the public interest, and the reputational consequences for the City of London. These concerns are set within the wider context of international criticism which views the City of London as being too accessible for funds of dubious provenance.
Civil society actors and others have long expressed concerns that corrupt oligarchs and kleptocrats use the services of UK-based law firms to consolidate their wealth and bolster impunity for their actions, while the rights of victims are ignored. Actors within in the legal profession have in turn expressed concerns that challenges to their ability to act for certain clients are challenges to the right to representation and the principle that lawyers should not be identified with their clients.
Reaching an understanding between the legal profession and wider society as to whether reasonable boundaries should be placed around such activity, and where and on what principles they might be drawn, would serve both the public interest and the interests of the legal profession. This is not primarily conceived as an anti-money laundering question, as the funds involved are not usually of provably criminal origin. As such, it is also a question of choices made according to ethics, reputation considerations, and adherence to ESG values.
In order to bring greater clarity to these issues, the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) will host a multi-stakeholder Taskforce examining the role of lawyers and law firms in relation to kleptocracy and grand corruption.
The Taskforce will examine the current rules, practices and approaches used by the UK’s legal profession in relation to choosing which clients to represent, excluding the realm of criminal proceedings, and consider the basis for new approaches to the way in which ethical standards might be developed in relation to such choices. Areas of interest include the acceptability of the provenance of client resources, the uses to which those resources are put and the nature of their activities, as well as how current practices align with professional ethical standards.
Areas of focus
The Taskforce will focus primarily on the original areas of concern, but as these are essentially issues of a) business ethics and b) decisions about which clients to act for, it is likely that both the process and any resulting lessons or statements of principle may be applicable to other ESG issues such as human rights and environmental concerns.
The Taskforce will be overseen by a Steering Committee, chaired by the Chair of the Taskforce.
The members of the Steering Committee are:
- Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice, Centre for the Study of Corruption
- Guy Beringer KC (Hon), former Senior Partner, Allen & Overy
- Sam Eastwood, Partner, Mayer Brown
- Rachael Saunders, Deputy Director, Institute of Business Ethics
- Lucy Wolley Dod, former Partner, Norton Rose Fulbright
The members of the Taskforce are:
- Guy Beringer KC (Hon) – Chair
- Robert Barrington – Deputy Chair
- Michael Bennett, Former Partner and GC, Linklaters
- Sara Carnegie, Legal Director, International Bar Association
- Sarah de Gay, Non-Executive Director, Independent Committee Member, and Solicitor
- Jonathan Goldsmith, Consultant in European and International Legal Services
- Duncan Hames, Director of Policy and Programmes, Transparency International UK
- Susan Hawley, Executive Director, Spotlight on Corruption
- Stephen Mayson, Centre for Ethics and Law, University College London
- Julie Norris, Partner, Regulatory Team, Kingsley Napley LLP
- Patricia Robertson KC, Fountain Court Chambers
- Jeff Twentyman, Chair of Sustainability and Responsible Business, Slaughter and May
All Taskforce members are serving in a personal capacity and not as representatives of their institutions.
The Taskforce will be further supported by a consultation process which will aid evidence gathering and provide additional insight from the expertise of relevant stakeholders, including:
- City law firms and practitioners
- Law firm General Counsels
- The Bar
- Banking and corporate General Counsels
- Civil society
This is an initial list and is expected that further stakeholder groups will be identified as the project unfolds.
The Taskforce invites and welcomes emailed submissions by 31 December 2023 addressing the aims of the project, please email Georgia Garrod.
Outputs and timeline
The Taskforce will consider the ways in which reasonable boundaries might be placed around British lawyers choosing to represent kleptocrats and others involved in grand corruption and aims to develop effective tools and policy recommendations that can be implemented by law firms, regulators or others. These will be published in a final report to be produced towards the end of 2024, following a 12-month period of Taskforce convening, including evidence-gathering and consultation. The Taskforce also aims to create a strong network of individuals from across different stakeholder groups who are committed to progressing this area of work in a meaningful way.
Coordination with related initiatives
The Taskforce is aware that related initiatives exist in other forums such as the International Bar Association, Law Society, Legal Services Board and World Economic Forum examining similar issues. Members of the Taskforce are closely involved with each of these. The differentiator of this initiative is that it is a) multistakeholder b) focused on the legal profession in England & Wales, c) focussed on kleptocracy and grand corruption and d) not locked into a specific type of outcome such as regulation. However, the Taskforce will liaise closely with other such initiatives, not least to enable the Taskforce’s own recommendations to influence those being considered in other forums.
The project will also coordinate with ‘enabler’ initiatives currently being undertaken in several think-tanks, academic groups and NGOs, to promote mutual support and learning.
The work is funded by the Joffe Trust and a contribution from Transparency International.