Stuck in traffic on the M11 yesterday afternoon, my husband and I – having divided up the last of the emergency wine gums – embarked on a philosophical discussion prompted in part by my blog post last week about Kier Starmer’s recommendation for mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse. Also in our minds was a story we had been told over the weekend by a lawyer friend who said that his firm had been dealing with a partner who had been found fiddling his expenses. Is it worse, husband and I wondered, for a lawyer to break the law than for an ordinary person to do so? After all, a lawyer has devoted his life to upholding a body of legislation, because – one would suppose – he believes that there should be such a body of legislation, and that (for the most part) the particular one he represents is fit for purpose (i.e. fair and just and practical). But perhaps when it comes to fiddling expenses (or indeed any financial fraud), we mused as we sucked wine gum bits from our back teeth, it is actually worse for an accountant to do it than for a lawyer? An accountant exists to ensure that finances are correctly represented – so wilfully misrepresenting them goes to the very heart of his professional being.
It was a long traffic jam, so we dived down into more gritty situations. If you take a specific non-financial crime, let’s say domestic violence, are certain professions more culpable than others? If a man hits his wife, is it worse if he is a doctor (who knows more than most the physical damage that such a blow can inflict), or a psychiatrist (who knows about mental trauma), or a policeman (who sees the fallout on families), or a bus driver (our neutral category)? And if you do think that (to put it bluntly) some people should know better, would it make sense for punishments to be scaled accordingly? In the magistrates’ court, for instance, we always base fines on the defendant’s means – poorer people pay less than richer ones (although the proportion of their income should be constant).
Bringing it all closer to home, we already have separate offences of failure to report (suspicions of money laundering) for general staff and for MLROs; although the penalties are the same, the objective test of suspicion will bite more harshly on the latter. Should our other money laundering offences – concealing, assisting/arrangements, etc. – be likewise varied, so that someone who abuses their position working in the regulated sector to launder money is given a rougher ride than that money laundering bus driver? Should an MLRO who launders money be given the stiffest penalty of all? We’re talking here not about introducing the objective test of suspicion, but about recognising the additional breach of trust or abuse of position. At this point, the traffic cleared (overturned vehicle near Duxford) and we went on our way.