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Laws that hang individuals out to dry

Comment 15th July 2010

I would like to see an end to Government and public authorities abdicating their responsibilities and putting them on individuals.

Two examples, latest fire regulations and anti money laundering regulations.

Fire regs

Companies are now required to carry out their own risk assessments of buildings instead of the Fire Service. The company then has to appoint a 'responsible person' for it's premises.

In a company that has lots of branches, that would mean someone at a very low level having that responsibility.

Even if they have received adequate training, as they are not 'experts', if there were a problem that led to serious injury or loss of life, that individual would be responsible.

Is that burden fair?

The responsibility should go back to the Fire Service who should be mandated to carry out inpections on business premises and report on what is needed. They are the experts. It should be funded by businesses being charged for the inspections and the Fire Service should have authority to enforce necessary procedures/works to comply.

In local authorities, you have to pay for planning services as a business, planners have the power to investigate planning breaches and serve enforcment orders on those that don't comply. Why not the same for the Fire Regs?

Anti Money Laundering Regs

Again, these place enormous penalties and pressure on ordinary employees.

Those involved in money laundering are very skilled in this complex area and will always look to exploit an easy target.

However despite the severe penalties in criminal law that apply, individuals have no access to advice from the authorities.

In fact in some cases, the authorities put individuals at risk by exposing them to potential high level criminals on the one hand and prison sentences on the other with no help from organisations such as SOCA who make it plain they are not an advice service.

Example: an individual is under investigation by one body who seize documents from a company as part of their investigation. That company is required to hand over all documentation with nothing witheld, deleted or altered. As evidence, those documents are then made available to the defendant.

If those documents include reference to the suspicion of unrelated criminal activity, eg money laundering,  the individual will find out about it and what's worse, and who was involved.

The innocent employee could then face a charge of tipping off which is a criminal offence possibly leading to a jail sentence and at the same time be at risk of reprisals from a hardened criminal.

SOCA and other agencies need to be funded so that can pro-active in pursuing serious criminals not depend on the public with severe penalties if they miss something.

Why does this matter?

Government agencies are trying to get intelligence on the cheap and the penalties for getting something wrong are severe. It cannot be right to put this pressure on often inexperienced and low paid staff.

Companies will provide training but they can't be looking over the shoulder of every employee all of the time.

With Fire Regs and the like, bodies with the expertise such as the fire service should take responsibility and businesses should pay.

With Money Laundering,  there should be an arm of SOCA that can advise, reassure and protect individuals not just say it's not our problem, we're an enforcement agency not a helpline. 

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