UK Privy Council rules that anti-money laundering law related to attorneys is constitutional
The Privy Council has ruled that Jamaica’s anti-money laundering law as it applies to attorneys does not breach the constitution.
The law requires that attorneys disclose suspicious transactions of their clients, in matters including purchasing and selling businesses or real estate, or creating companies or trusts.
The amendment to the Act in 2013 was to address national security concerns, and comply with international standards, in respect of the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing.
The case was brought by the attorney general and the general legal council following rulings from the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
A three-judge panel of the Supreme Court held that the relevant legislation was lawful and dismissed the challenge.
However, on appeal the Court of Appeal declared certain aspects of the regime invalid on the basis that they contravened the constitutional rights to privacy, liberty and freedom from search of property without demonstrable justification.
In the ruling handed down on Thursday morning, the Privy Council concluded that the anti-money laundering regime does not breach attorneys’ or their clients’ constitutional rights and said it will advise that the appeals should be allowed and that the order of the full court should be restored.
The extended regime gave the General Legal Council, as the regulator of the legal profession in Jamaica, certain powers to monitor compliance by attorneys with the anti-money laundering law.
This included carrying out inspections, examining and copying documents, and potentially sharing information with the other authorities.
It also extended to attorneys the requirement to disclose suspicious transactions to the Financial Investigations Division of the Ministry of Finance.
The Jamaican Bar Association, had brought a challenge to the extended regime on the basis that it is unconstitutional on a number of grounds.
The group is concerned that the amendment was in breach of confidentiality in attorney-client relations and amounted to a conflict of interest.
The Privy Council declared that the regime does not infringe the constitutional right to liberty.
It said any interference with the right to liberty caused by punishment or threat of punishment of attorneys for failing to comply with the anti-money laundering regime would be demonstrably justifiable
It added that the regime does not infringe the constitutional right to protection from search of property, and that the power of the general legal council to conduct inspections does not confer a coercive power of search and seizure.
In the absence of a warrant or court order the general legal council would need an attorney’s consent to enter their office or take documents.