In July 2019 the Excessive Courtroom present in favour of Royal Financial institution of Scotland in N v RBS, which was introduced by a former buyer searching for damages flowing from what it mentioned had been illegal actions taken by RBS. RBS had frozen quite a few accounts held by the shopper and terminated the banking relationship with instant impact on the premise that it suspected a number of the buyer’s accounts contained the proceeds of crime.

The courtroom discovered that RBS was entitled to terminate its relationship with its buyer with out discover.  

This resolution was made on the premise that RBS had investigated the shopper’s use of accounts, assessed the dangers (each when it comes to fraud and the dangers to the shopper’s enterprise) and thought of whether or not distinctive circumstances had arisen which might entitle RBS to terminate banking amenities in accordance with its phrases and circumstances. The courtroom thought of the choice avenues which the shopper steered RBS may have pursued and concluded that the degrees of threat and concern inside RBS had been too excessive for it to be affordable to have required RBS to (for instance) ringfence the suspect funds or search consent from the Nationwide Crime Company (NCA) each day.

The impact of RBS’s resolution was that its buyer was denied banking amenities.

That is in distinction to the place through which Deutsche Financial institution discovered itself because of working varied accounts on behalf of Jeffrey Epstein. In July this 12 months Deutsche Financial institution was fined $150m for failing to correctly monitor its relationship with Epstein.

Cash laundering obligations


Banks are below specific obligations to forestall cash laundering. These have intensified over time, following traits within the US, with the introduction of successive cash laundering directives (MLDs) from the EU. MLD four put a heavy emphasis on the significance of a risk-based method, whereas the latest, MLD 5, launched additional necessities in relation to the anti-money laundering (AML) obligations of banks, notably in relation to politically uncovered individuals (PEPs), high-risk third nations and helpful possession.

In mild of the more and more stringent regime, and the willingness on the a part of regulators to impose very important fines (such because the New York Division of Monetary Providers in relation to Epstein’s relationship with Deutsche Financial institution), it’s no shock that banks have gotten risk-averse within the excessive.

There are, nonetheless, issues that come up when a risk-based method leans too far in direction of absolutely the avoidance of threat, as towards a correct evaluation, consideration and weighing of the problems concerned.

Improperly motivated prison litigation

In parallel with the strict regime imposed by regulators globally, there has additionally been an increase in prison litigation motivated by improper functions, whether or not for political causes or within the context of hostile industrial litigation. The worldwide prison justice watchdog Truthful Trials mentioned the abuse of Interpol crimson notices in its 2018 report Dismantling the Instruments of Oppression: Ending the Misuse of Interpol. Governments and people with an agenda to push can see to it that prison proceedings are instituted, bringing with them the potential of issuing a crimson discover by way of Interpol. In numerous Gulf states prison proceedings could also be commenced in relation to offences corresponding to illegal disclosure of knowledge or bouncing a cheque. In numerous nations a prison allegation made towards an individual outdoors the nation can result in a conviction in th eir absence. Governments searching for to silence opposition politicians abroad want solely institute proceedings towards a person on a fabricated prison cost. As soon as a crimson discover is printed on Interpol’s web site, that is accessible to all, together with the compliance departments of banks and organisations employed to establish and handle threat.


The implications of banks’ compliance departments taking a zero-risk method alongside the rising misuse of prison proceedings by events with an improper motivation are that people topic to those acts are more and more denied banking amenities. The N v RBS resolution serves to entrench this perspective by the banks – in actuality, they’ve extra to lose by finishing up a correctly thought of and nuanced threat evaluation than by terminating a relationship with a buyer whose profile raises any crimson flags.

Issues of not having a checking account

Being denied banking amenities has all the time been inconvenient, however lately the impression of a termination of a banking relationship or refusal to supply banking amenities has widened.

As we spend extra time on-line, the necessity to have a checking account to guide tickets, pay for subscriptions, obtain wages and store turns into extra evident. This has been accentuated through the pandemic as quite a few retailers stopped accepting money and other people more and more turned to on-line purchasing.

Additional, sure industries limit use of money funds – legislation corporations for instance – so with no checking account it will be notably tough to instruct a solicitor.

With no checking account it’s more and more tough to take part in society. Additional, lack of banking amenities very successfully restricts or closes off an individual’s capability to both deliver a authorized problem towards a financial institution, or to defend towards an improperly motivated prison cost.


Proper to banking?


To make sure individuals are not excluded from society or denied entry to justice due to choices taken by banks which aren’t simply appealable, clear or topic to exterior scrutiny, ought to there be a proper to banking? This may imply {that a} financial institution can’t terminate a buyer’s banking amenities until that buyer is ready to open amenities elsewhere.

We’re, in fact, not advocating for lowered AML checks – banks are on the forefront of the battle towards monetary crime and cash laundering. Nevertheless, and as steered in N v RBS, there are steps which a financial institution may put in place in circumstances through which it has issues about the usage of accounts which might enable it to undertake the required checks, together with referrals to the NCA the place needed, however would cease in need of terminating amenities: ringfencing suspect funds, manually working the account and/or searching for common consent to be used of the amenities.

Banks also needs to be extra keen to have interaction with clients to discover and tackle AML issues: discussing and investigating the supply of funds to make sure they don’t originate from a rustic topic to sanctions; and searching behind and fascinating with litigation which can be political in nature, notably in circumstances through which a freeze of accounts and/or the termination of amenities may have a  important impression on the shopper’s capability to instruct attorneys and defend the proceedings.

Mary Younger is a companion in dispute decision at Kingsley Napley and LSLA committee member. Rebecca Niblock is a companion in prison litigation at Kingsley Napley