Helping the police with their enquiries (or not)

I am occasionally asked by accountants what they should do if they are approached by the police in connection with a police investigation concerning a client.

I do sometimes think that accountants' brains desert them when they are questioned by a police officer.  A lot of basic rules seem to be suddenly forgotten!

The first thing to remember is that your contractual and professional duty is to keep your clients' affairs confidential.

You wouldn't answer a question about your clients' affairs if you were asked by a stranger in the pub - so why behave differently if you are asked by a stranger in a blue uniform?

The golden rule therefore is to decline any invitation to volunteer information to the police.

By all means do this in a professional and courteous manner, explaining that your duty of client confidentiality and your contractual arrangements preclude you from answering police questions.  Also do feel free to suggest to the police officer that if he were to obtain a court order, such as a production order under s345 Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, that would over-ride your professional ethics and contractual obligations and so would enable you to provide documents to the police.  But in the absence of a court order you are unable to assist.

There are a couple of exceptional situations in which you are permitted to volunteer a limited amount of information to the police.  One is where you have already submitted a Suspicious Activity Report to SOCA (under s330 PoCA 2002 / Money Laundering Regulations 2007) and the officer is simply asking for clarification of the content of that report.  You may clarify the content of the report - but do not stray into volunteering additional information or documents.

The second exception is where the police investigation is into your own conduct.  In these circumstances you are entitled to defend yourself (but do get independent legal advice before answering any police questions - and not from the same solicitor that the client uses!).

If and when the police do obtain a court order (and produce it to you) then do comply with it.  A production order under s345 will normally require you to produce the documents referred to in the order to the police within 7 days.  That may, and probably will, include your correspondence files and working papers as well as any of the client's records which you may be holding.  (Please don't be tempted to 'polish' your working papers before handing them over - it's a police investigation, not a quality assurance check!)

But a production order does not require you to answer police questions (and you should not do so).

If the police invite you to make a written statemernt to accompany the documents then you should (politely) decline to do so.

Finally, do remember not to tell anyone outside your office (except your own legal advisers if you consult them) about the police investigation.  That could amount to an offence under s333A or s342 PoCA 2002.

David

Comments
cymraeg_draig's picture

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cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

Sound advice David.

My advice has always been - say nothing.  There is no such thing as an"off the record" discussion with police.  And whatever they might try to say, they are not "investigating" you or your client, they are actually looking for anything that can be used to help them gain a conviction.  They are not interested in the truth.

Many people allow themselves to be interviewed by police, only to then be arrested/charged because of something they have said during the interview.

Where the questioning is about a client, again your duty is to the client. I would always state that I cannot disclose any information due to professional confidentiality and ask for a court order. Once such an order is provided comply with the order - but nothing more.  Do not be tempted to supply anything not specified on the order.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

julian.sims's picture

Good advice

julian.sims | | Permalink

David

Thank you for a very good piece of advice about handling a police enquiry into a client, covering both the 'informal' approach and situation where a production order has been obtained.

For most accountants in practice it is still an unusual circumstance and anything to give us the confidence to deal properly is valuable.

Julian

Gerard Murray's picture

First Impressions

Gerard Murray | | Permalink

 I am aware of a few situations in which a visit from the police made the accountant feel that he himself was under some suspicion, especially when the police announce that they were carrying out investigation of possible money laundering offences.

In one particular case, the upshot of a ‘friendly visit’ was that the accountant began an immediate review of his working papers in something of a frenzy imagining that there must have been something ‘suspicious’ that he missed. He considered that he had been out on notice of potential criminality by his client and raised the matter with his client.

The first visit was mid way through the client’s accounting year and, well after that year end date, the police eventually returned and served a production order on the accountant for his working papers, obtaining both the most up-to-date papers as well as those for the previous three years.

When I was told of the case my first impression was that the initial reaction of the accountant had not impressed the police who became suspicious that he had something to hide and you know what is said of first impressions. The client was investigated by the Revenue and eventually prosecuted for money laundering offences, none of which had to do with the Revenue investigation.

David’s point as to how the first interview is handled is very important and his point that many accountants wobble at the knees when being interviewed by the boys in blue is well made.
   
 

cymraeg_draig's picture

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cymraeg_draig | | Permalink

David’s point as to how the first interview is handled is very important and his point that many accountants wobble at the knees when being interviewed by the boys in blue is well made.
    

Posted by Gerard Murray on Wed, 16/03/2011 - 17:23

 

Which is exactly what they rely on. When "rattled" people (whether accused or potential witnesess) will say things without thinking and the police are well aware of this.

There is only one way to handle any interview - dont take part in it. You have every right to make no comment and by simply sitting there making a note of the questions put to you or your client you will quickly learn what evidence the police think they have. 

I would always advise clients to respond to any question with - "I am not prepared to respond until I have had sufficient time to give my response proper consideration as I would not wish to give a response which was innacurate and the stress of an interview situation does not allow proper consideration to be given. Further I would prefer to check my facts and give an accurate answer rather than guess at the answers to your questions". 

Also, until you have legal representation, you should decline to say anything. A police officer can attempt to interview you without legal representation but the instant you inform him that you wish your solicitor to be present he commits an offence if he asks you anything further. Delaying contacting your solicitor is also an offence. 

Should he be stupid enough to say something like - "if you were inocent you wouldnt need a solicitor" he should be reported to your solicitor, who should immediately report the officer to his superior and demand his immediate removal from the case as he has clearly demonstrated unlawful bias. 

Also, always remember that time is on YOUR side. You cannot be held for more than 6 hours without authorisation from a senior officer, and, you cannot be held for over 24 hours without being put before a court.

 

 

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