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Ethics Institute launches taskforce to examine legal services to oligarchs and kleptocrats

Ethics Institute launches taskforce to examine legal services to oligarchs and kleptocrats


The 12-strong Taskforce on Business Ethics and the Legal Profession, chaired by Guy Beringer KC (Hon) (former Senior Partner of Allen & Overy)

The Institute of Business Ethics is to launch a new Taskforce to examine the provision of civil legal services to overseas oligarchs and kleptocrats by UK-based firms.

  • New Taskforce to examine the provision of legal services by UK-based firms to overseas oligarchs and kleptocrats.
  • Group to bring together legal experts, academics and civil society representatives for legal sector-wide consultation.
  • Taskforce to be charged with delivering recommendations to reconcile reputational and ethical risks of providing services with rights to representation.

The task force will be charged with examining the reputational and ethical risks to the legal profession of taking on such clients, and how these can be reconciled with rights to representation, longstanding professional values, and international obligations such as those set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The members of the Taskforce are:

  • Guy Beringer KC (Hon) – Chair
  • Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice, Centre for the Study of Corruption – Deputy Chair
  • Michael Bennett, Former Partner and GC, Linklaters
  • Sara Carnegie, Legal Director, International Bar Association
  • Sarah de Gay, Master of the City of London Solicitors’ Company, President of the City of London Law Society (2023/24), 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

The formation of the Taskforce follows the high-profile exit of many firms from Russian business following the invasion of Ukraine, and long-standing concerns by the UK, EU and US governments that lawyers may be playing a role in enabling overseas corruption. Civil society representatives have warned that UK legal services are too accessible to corrupt capital, while members of the legal profession have warned of the risks of undermining core principles such as the right to representation, access to justice, and the principle of not associating the lawyer with the client.

The Taskforce is expected to share its recommendations with law firms, regulators, law makers and other stakeholders within 12 months.

Dr Ian Peters MBE, Director of the Institute of Business Ethics, said: “There are increasing examples of oligarchs using or looking to use our courts and UK-based firms for their civil proceedings and commercial transactions. This means practitioners are walking a tightrope between professional obligations to provide representation and commercial considerations on one side, and the ethics of representing such individuals and what that means for public perceptions of their firms on the other.

 “I’m delighted that senior members of the legal profession and civil society experts are coming together under Guy Beringer’s chairmanship to examine what is a challenging and complex issue and provide guidance and recommendations that will support the global reputation of the UK’s legal sector.”

 Guy Beringer KC, Chair of the Taskforce on Business Ethics and the Legal Profession, said: “There has recently been growing pressure on lawyers to exercise greater ethical judgment in relation both to the clients for whom they will act and the work they undertake for those clients. In matters of criminal law there is a well-established principle that all defendants should have a right of representation. In relation to commercial matters which have no criminal element, no such principle has been clearly established.

 “The long-term interests of the profession and the reputation of the City of London would be well served by greater clarity and consensus on the ethical principles which should apply in civil matters when law firms are taking on new clients or taking new instructions for existing clients.”

 Professor Robert Barrington, Deputy Chair of the Taskforce on Business Ethics and the Legal Profession, said:  

“It’s an important step forward to have civil society representatives and senior lawyers sitting around the same table. We all have a common interest in working out how to reconcile the business needs of law firms, with the duties of lawyers to act in the public interest, and the rights of victims in faraway countries - which are easily overlooked when the money and transactions come to London. The concern must be that if the legal profession does not get its own house in order, there will be an unwanted alternative such as heavy-handed legislation or some form of international blacklisting.”