Here’s a quick reminder of the employment law impact of the suspension of the usual Sunday Trading laws from 22 July to 9 September. Shop workers can opt out of Sunday working in larger shops by giving 3 months’ notice, provided they are not employed just to work on Sundays. To give these workers a chance to opt out in time to avoid longer Sunday working hours for the Olympic period, this notice period has been shortened to two months or the interval between the date notice is given and the day before the suspension starts, if that is longer. If workers want their opt-out to last only for the period of longer opening hours, they should specify this in their notice, otherwise it will continue indefinitely until they give notice to opt back in. The last date on which a shortened notice can be given is 9 July 2012.
SRA defends bid to increase power to fine law firms from £2,000 to £250m. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has rejected calls for it to have greater powers to fine alternative business structures (ABSs) than traditional law firms. It has also dismissed suggestions by the Law Society that it should not have substantial fining powers at all.
The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on SRA proposals to bring its fining powers for traditional firms – currently £2,000 – in line with those for ABSs, which are £250m for firms and £50m for individuals.
The SRA’s regulatory risk committee was told recently that one issue which has arisen is that some stakeholders feel higher penalties should be available within the ABS regime because ABSs may be of higher means or may be less deterred from misconduct by the prospect of being removed from future legal practice than a solicitor would.
However, the SRA said it was unconvinced by this. “A number of traditional law firms in England and Wales are reported to have global turnovers in excess of £1bn and so are of very significant means. Also, it is clear that a number of ABSs will be of comparatively low means and there is a danger in attempting to group together firms of significantly varying turnovers and structures into one category for disciplinary purposes.
Forced marriage to be criminalised. Forcing someone to marry will become a criminal offence in England and Wales, the prime minister confirmed today. But the legislation will not be introduced until the 2013/14 parliamentary session. The maximum sentence for the offence has yet to be decided. Breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) will also be criminalised.
Some £500,000 will be committed over the next three years to measures that will increase protection and support for victims and improve prevention. That will include a major campaign over the summer to raise awareness of the risk of forced marriage abroad and to help teachers and others identify early warning signs. The decision follows a 12-week consultation, during which opponents of the change expressed concern that criminalisation could deter victims from coming forward.
The Government has announced that it will proceed with plans to require employers who lose equal pay claims before an employment tribunal to undertake and publish equal pay audits. The proposal for imposing mandatory pay audits on employers as a means of tackling the gender pay gap was included in last year’s ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation. The details of how an employment tribunal’s power to order a pay audit would operate – in particular, the contents of the audit and the publication requirements – will be the subject of further consultation later in the year. The Government’s response to other elements of the ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation, such as a new system of shared parental leave and an extension of the right to request flexible working to nearly all employees, will be published in due course.
18 solicitors sanctioned for money laundering breaches as Treasury warned over increased risks from ABSs. Eighteen solicitors were sanctioned by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last year for breaches of anti-money laundering (AML) obligations, the Law Society has reported. It has also identified litigation and alternative business structures (ABSs) as among the increased risks of money laundering facing the profession.
In their annual report to HM Treasury on their activities as the AML supervisor for solicitors in England and Wales, the society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority said six solicitors had been struck off, two suspended, eight fined and two reprimanded. In addition, one solicitor was struck off for a conviction under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, while two more were refused restoration to the roll due to convictions under the Act.
The report said “the key methodologies and warning signs of money laundering and terrorist financing remain relatively consistent for the legal sector”, but there are increased risks in four main areas.
These were an increase in private funding for property purchases as lenders require higher levels of deposits and home buyers seek funding from friends and family; increased use of litigation and other alternative dispute resolution methods to attempt to launder funds; hijacking of legal practice identities and creation of sham legal practices by organised criminals; and the potential for organised criminals to seek to invest in legal practices through the licensing of ABSs.