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Competence Statement gets green light

Solicitors to make annual declaration of competence as stakeholders voice concerns over 'bonfire of regulations'

12 March 2015

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)'s Competence Statement has cleared its final hurdle following Board approval and will be published at the beginning of April.

As part of a new training regime, the statement will replace the 16 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) solicitors. Instead, the statement defines the standards expected of solicitors at the point of qualification.

Solicitors will be expected to make an annual declaration of their competence and take responsibility of their own learning, although a consultation on the assessment framework for the statement will take place later this year.

The SRA's executive director for policy, Crispin Passmore, expressed that these were not big brother measures designed to discipline solicitors who made one mistake, but were actionable against those responsible for a client's loss of liberty, or those who consistently delivered poor advocacy.

The SRA has confirmed that its 125 solicitors will be the first to adopt the new regime and that it expects several firms to follow suit in April.

The statement includes three sections: the statement itself, a 'statement of knowledge', and the 'threshold standard'.

In addition to defining the standards expected of practitioners, the statement also defines the steps they need to take to maintain those standards.

The SRA held a 12-week consultation and received 72 stakeholders from practitioners between October 2014 and January 2015.

Chair of the SRA's education and training Committee, Martin Coleman, commented: 'The Competence Statement gives important guidance to solicitors on the standards they are expected to meet. This is for work we are now undertaking on the competencies we expect of would-be solicitors, and also to ensure continuing competence following the abolition of the mandatory continuing professional development hours requirement.

'We received a large number of responses and made some amendments in light of these submissions. I am grateful to all those who took the time to contribute to this important piece of work.'

The consultation responses weren't without criticism however, as law schools and lecturers commented that a departure from the traditional route to law, i.e. through university, would harm the profession.

The University of Law said it believes that the law should remain principally a graduate profession, and that prescribed pathways of learning must be retained in order to equip an individual with the knowledge to practise as a solicitor.

The Association of Law Teachers commented: 'To summarise our position, it is that we find it highly surprising that the SRA appears thus far to be prepared to depart so far from the consensus of the international legal profession…and also by ignoring the reality that a recognised higher education qualification in law is the international yardstick for recognition as a legal professional.'

SRA Board members said the consultees were speculating about how the statement may be used, perhaps in relation to the regulator's equivalent means provision, which SJ reported has already approved four applicants.

The statement will be published on the SRA website in early April 2015, at the same time solicitors are able to move to the new approach to continuing competence.

A proposal will now be submitted to the Legal Services Board (LSB) to amend the notes under Principle 5 of the SRA Principles.

This will make it clear that, for a solicitor, meeting the competences set out in the Competence Statement is one requirement of adhering to Principle 5, which states 'you must provide a proper standard of service to your clients'.

Laura Clenshaw is managing editor of Solicitors Journal | @L_Clenshaw

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