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Gatekeepers and ordinary businesses ‘have key role in sanctions’
Law Society's Emma-Jane Williams

05 Jul 2022 / law society Print

Gatekeepers and business have 'key role in sanctions'

Law Society anti-money-laundering (AML) expert Emma-Jane Williams spoke at a recent CCBE and European Lawyers Foundation webinar on Ukraine and EU sanctions about the role of bars and law societies in EU sanctions.

The event was joined online by 720 lawyers from all over the world.

The organisers, CCBE and ELF, have since published a report on the webinar, which took place on 15 June. 

Solicitors in Ireland can access the latest information relevant to them by visiting the Law Society’s Sanctions Resource Hub www.lawsociety.ie/sanctions.

Williams explained that gatekeepers and ordinary businesses had an important role to play in preventing the misuse of legitimate financial systems, through AML or in freezing assets through sanctions.

“It's a new frontier for bars and law societies, but we are certainly not starting from scratch with sanctions, and the legal profession has come so far with AML, and is well positioned to respond to sanctions,” she commented.

Williams told the webinar that lawyers had “the role of societal mediator, as architects of participatory democracy. They act as mediators in society and facilitate people in participating in their legal system.”

Rule-of-law role

“The role of bars and law societies is really concerned with how to help lawyers do what they need to do to ensure the rule of law – to be the foot soldiers of the rule of law.  It is about how can we buttress and empower the legal profession in their rule-of-law role and, at the same time, place checks on lawyer power which are independent of state interference?”

Ultimately sanctions, like AML, would likely help deepen the understanding of the role of lawyers in the rule of law, she said.

Williams outlined the practical steps bars and law societies can take to deliver on their own role to support and empower lawyers in democracies, which fall under three pillars:

  • Representation,
  • Outreach,
  • Supervision.

Williams concluded by outlining the representational role of bars and law societies: “It is to help people understand legal need, and the role of lawyers in meeting that need;being the voice of an independent legal profession communicating the human aspects of law – law’s humanity."


Valerijus Ostrovskis told the webinar that specialised sanctions lawyers might provide advice to their client.

This was not an insignificant task, because of the pace and volume of new sanctions that had been so significant, he commented.

Sanctions-compliance programmes were essential for clients regularly engaged in dealings with Russia, he added.

Providing legal advice on transactions to ensure that they were compliant with EU sanctions had become a very risky, but also very important, activity, Ostrovskis said.

A sanctioned person may seek to transfer assets, and will ask European lawyers to certify that there is no violation – something which lawyers need to be alert to.

However, lawyers could and should still be able to defend the sanctioned person. This would require a licence for the payment of legal fees, he said.

Speed of sanctions

Lawyer Jeroen Jansen said that the speed of the sanctions had left little time to reflect at the preparation stage.

Lawyers were not involved at the working level; it was the heads of state and government ministers that decided the sanctions measures.

This was very much in contrast to previous sanctions regimes, where more time and process had resulted in a better outcome, he commented.

As a result of this speed, there might be a higher number of cases appealed or asking for reconsideration, Jansen said.

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