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UK Sanctions Powers: Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the legal basis for making sanctions within the UK. This includes the global human rights regime and the global anti-money laundering regime.

Under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (the Sanctions Act), an appropriate Minister may adopt Regulations to impose sanctions where they consider that doing so would be appropriate to comply with an obligation under the United Nations Charter, another international obligation, or for one of the following purposes, where the sanctions regulations would:

  • further the prevention of terrorism, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere,
  • be in the interests of national security,
  • be in the interests of international peace and security,
  • further a foreign policy objective of the government of the United Kingdom,
  • promote the resolution of armed conflicts or the protection of civilians in conflict zones,
  • provide accountability for or be a deterrent to gross violations of human rights, or otherwise promote—
    • compliance with international human rights law, or
    • respect for human rights,
  • promote compliance with international humanitarian law,
  • contribute to multilateral efforts to prevent the spread and use of weapons and materials of mass destruction, or
  • promote respect for democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

Sanctions designations from all UK Sanctions Regimes are added to the UK Sanctions List. The UK Sanctions List is also searchable via HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation.

Other Statutory Instruments can be found by searching for all SIs adopted under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 on the Parliament website.

Procedures for imposing sanctions

Each of the individual sanctions regimes may have their own designation criteria for listing individuals and entities for those specific sanctions. But these criteria must be in line with the minimum requirements set out in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. There are two relevant considerations:

  • the powers to establish sanctions regulations, and
  • the powers to designate individuals or entities to the UK Sanctions List.

Existing sanctions regulations are now also subject to amendments made by the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, which retrospectively changes the effect of the designation criteria for pre-existing sanctions regimes.

The Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regime

The Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regulations 2021 were created using powers provided for in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The Regulations were created to prevent and combat serious corruption, allowing the Secretary of State to impose financial sanctions and travel bans on persons involved in serious corruption.

Corruption is defined in the Regulations as “bribery or misappropriation of property”. These concepts are further defined in reg 4(3) on conduct relating to foreign public officials.

These regulations allow the Government to impose financial sanctions, including asset-freezes, and travel bans.

Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

The UK’s global human rights sanctions regime is provided for in the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020, in force since 6 July 2020. This sanctions regime, according to the Government, is intended to deter, and provide accountability for, activities which, if carried out by or on behalf of a state, would amount to a serious violation of certain human rights by that state.

Specifically, the regulations provide for sanctions to be adopted in response to actions that would usually (if carried out by or on behalf of a state) amount to a serious violation of the following three human rights:

  • The right to life
  • The right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The right to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour, whether or not the activity is carried out by or on behalf of a State.

Persons undertaking or involved in these activities can be designated for the purpose of a travel ban or an asset freeze. It does not matter whether the actions in question are committed by a state or a non-state actor. The Regulations do not currently provide for sanctions for activities that would amount to other human rights violations.

Government considerations on amending the law

The Government has said that it is considering ways in which the UK could seize, rather than freeze, Russian assets and whether this could help with the rebuilding of Ukraine. In several answers to Parliamentary Questions, the Government has referred to such plans, but has not yet published any concrete proposals.

The Financial Times reported in March 2022 that the Government was “drawing up plans to seize British property owned by Russian oligarchs with links to President Vladimir Putin, without paying them compensation”.

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