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SRA unveils international 'passport to practice'

14 November 2011

The SRA is proposing to sweep away the old system of registering foreign offices of City-based global firms and bring in a single ‘international passport to practice’.

The idea is contained in a ‘green paper’ on international regulation launched last week, which aims to apply outcomes-focused regulation to law firms with a presence overseas.

Alison Hook, consultant international adviser at the SRA, said there was a danger that firms could be “caught in a complete mess of paperwork, where it is not clear who is regulating whom”.

Hook said firms could be asked to apply the principles of OFR across their practices, but not the outcomes.

She said that under the 2007 Solicitors’ Handbook, around 8,000 solicitors with PCs working outside the UK were regulated individually. Their offices, if linked to an English practice, became ‘registered bodies’.

“The new handbook brings an awful lot of new responsibilities for entities,” Hook said. “It could be applied anywhere in the world where an office is linked to an English partnership.

“There would be a massive increase in our regulatory reach if it was applied all over the world, regardless of impact.”

Instead, Hook said the SRA wanted to make entity-based regulation ‘credible’ through a ‘light-touch’ approach.

She said that every individual lawyer was expected to follow local laws and regulations, but the ‘green paper’ was a way of ensuring that gaps did not emerge because nobody was looking at the big picture.

Antony Townsend, chief executive of the SRA, added that the proposals would help support the further development of England and Wales as a hub for global legal services.

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