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SRA warns legal aid lawyers again over professional obligations

Regulator recognises the 'difficult commercial dispute' between practitioners and government

5 August 2015

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has reiterated its concern that solicitors may not be acting in the best interests of their clients - as required by the regulator's principles - by taking part in the nationwide boycott of legal aid work.

The SRA has now written to the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) to clarify the professional standards it expects involved solicitors to uphold during the continued direct action over government reforms to criminal legal aid.

The regulator of the solicitors' profession has already published a 'detailed warning notice' in response to the protocol issued by the LCCSA, reminding solicitors of their obligations.

The LCCSA amended the protocol in light of the notice, yet the regulator said it continued to have concerns about risks to clients' interests and have therefore written to the association's president, Jonathan Black.

The SRA's chief executive, Paul Philip, said: 'We recognise that this is a difficult commercial dispute. However, our role is to ensure those we regulate uphold their professional obligations even during difficult times - in fact it is exactly when under pressure that the risks to clients become most serious.

'If a solicitor is approached for legal advice or assistance, they should take reasonable efforts to help that person to obtain the assistance they need, whether or not the solicitor is in a position themselves to take on the matter, or has an existing duty to them as a client.'

Philip added that while the protocol is trying to balance the action that firms are engaged in, with the overriding professional obligations, it was the SRA's view that it does not achieve that balance.

The SRA's letter comes after the LCCSA, along with the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association (CLSA), and the Big Firms Group (BFG), met again with officials from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

During ninety minutes of 'frank exchange', representatives from the practitioner groups said they made it clear the profession could not sustain the remuneration rates imposed by the MoJ, while the ministry repeated that it was not willing to consider any representations that would impact upon the commencement of two tier contracts.

Practitioners were invited to provide 'bankable savings' that would be off-set against a three month suspension to the cuts. However, representatives informed the MoJ this was not acceptable as there were concerns the proposals would be adopted without benefit to the profession.

Further talks have been agreed upon, to take place over the next ten days, involving practitioner groups finding ways of providing alternative savings to the government.

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Regulators Legal Aid