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How lawyers in the UK are responding to the war in Ukraine

The legal implications explained

Relevant across multiple law types

With the events in Ukraine, it is interesting to know how lawyers in the UK are responding and what some of the legal implications may be.

Many of the large City of London law firms are withdrawing from offices that they have previously opened in Russia and reviewing their relationships with Russian clients and companies. The sanctions regime obviously makes it difficult to act for some Russian entities. However, several law firms are also withdrawing for ethical and reputational reasons.

Those ethical considerations extend to some law firms and lawyers participating in pro bono legal advice activities to help Ukrainians coming to the UK with immigration and other legal issues. A volunteer legal advice unit, The Ukraine Advice Project UK was set up recently for this purpose and now has around 430 lawyers giving pro bono advice and their time to assist Ukrainians in, or wanting to come to, the UK.

As well as the obvious impact on cost of living of the war in Ukraine, there are probably more subtle impacts which will affect us in the UK. That may include more stringently enforced checks on legal transactions, even down to the extent of buying a house. There has long been an anti-money laundering regime in place which requires conveyancing solicitors to check the source of their clients’ funds. This applies to areas outside of conveyancing too but is most often noticed there. So, if you are buying a house you should expect to be asked questions about where, for example, deposits, are coming from and prove it with things like bank statements. Even if you have no connection with Russia, lawyers are now more aware than ever that their Regulator and the authorities will be expecting lawyers to follow the rules around this and will stringently police them.

You may also notice that more checks are in place if you are, for example, paying your lawyers bill online. Cyber security is becoming and ever greater issue for law firms and the risk of cyber-attacks on UK businesses because of events in Ukraine is firmly in the minds of many IT professionals. So, in all areas of our lives, not just the law, we can expect to see higher levels of cyber security and verifications.

Finally, there has been talk of Vladimir Putin being indicted for war crimes. It seems unlikely that as a serving head of state he would be taken to the Hague war crimes tribunal anytime soon. However, this area of international law is developing, and it was only a few years ago that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the head of the Bosnian Serb state and military, were convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal and are serving lengthy prison sentences. International lawyers will say that having a functioning system of international justice, which means a head of state, military commander, or anyone else, has always got to be aware that one day they could face a court, should act as a restraint on those people in the present. That remains to be seen in the current Ukraine situation.

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