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Regulatory sanctions against solicitors back on the rise

3 May 2011

The number of solicitors with conditions on their practising certificates has risen 47 per cent over a year from 148 in the second quarter of 2010 to 218 at the end of the first quarter of 2011, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s latest quarterly report.

The regulator sees this rise as seasonal. “PCs come in the autumn and the problem ones which may require conditions are investigated over time, leading to a bulge when they are concluded which coincides with our first quarter report,” a spokesperson told Solicitors Journal.

The findings, however, are one of many in the report showing a general rise in professional sanctions against solicitors.

The increase in PC conditions – technically only a regulatory measure – follows an increase in disciplinary outcomes in the past quarter, albeit on a more limited scale.

In the past 12 months the SRA recorded an increase in the number of financial allegations from 836 to 884 – including abandonment of practice which rose from 81 to 94.

Allegations over legal competence also went up from 310 to 385, including allegations in respect of professional competence and client relations which more than doubled from 73 to 173.

After a noticeable decrease in complaints upheld between the second and fourth quarter of 2010 from 426 to 287, numbers went up again by 27 per cent to 364 in the first quarter of this year.

Similarly the number of SDT referrals went down from 102 to 51, only to increase by 47 per cent to 75 by March 2011.

During the same period the regulator closed down 59 firms, 33 fewer than in the 12 months to March 2010. Of these, 44 were sole practices and 15 were two to five-partner firms, compared with 70 and 22 respectively in the previous period.

The most common ground for intervention concerns the protection of client interests (68 per cent), followed by breaches of accounts rules (46 per cent) and breaches of the code (31 per cent). Suspected dishonesty accounts for 20 per cent of investigations.

At the same time the number of orders made by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal dropped by 16 per cent. The tribunal imposed 32 per cent fewer fines (180 to 122), struck off five per cent fewer solicitors (91 to 86) but suspended 15 per cent more.

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