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New SRA Handbook to provide less guidance and resources

'We want to move away from a prescriptive set of complex rules to focus on core professional standards,' says Paul Philip

26 November 2015

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) intends to give law firms in England and Wales "greater freedom to run their businesses as they need to", it has said today.

In a new position paper, the regulator has also outlined proposals to remove restrictions on where solicitors can work so that they can provide legal advice more widely.

"We want to move away from a prescriptive set of complex rules to focus on core professional standards, with additional restrictions only when necessary," said Paul Philip, CEO of the SRA.

"I want to see an end to the long and unwieldy Handbook and instead give the profession simple, clear guidance on what we require."

The move forms part of the SRA's controversial shift towards a more outcomes-focused approach in its regulation of law firms, including continuing professional development.

In May 2014, the SRA announced an ambitious programme of reform, with the aim of reducing its rules and regulations. Nearly 40 rules have been removed in the 18 months since the programme was launched.

"The legal services market is developing at an unprecedented rate and the expected review of the Legal Services Act may bring further changes. We have to design an up-to-date and fit-for-purpose approach that will protect the public and give flexibility to the profession," said Philip.

The SRA plan to focus its regulatory measures on the areas of greatest risk, helping to deliver more targeted, effective safeguards.

The paper sets out the regulator's plans for a new-look Handbook, which includes a move towards much briefer guidance and resources.

Asked Enid Rowlands, chair of the SRA Board: "Do we really need such complex and restrictive rules when solicitors are already bound by core professional standards and principles such as integrity, confidentiality and independence?"

"Does it make sense that the public cannot access legal advice from a solicitor unless they go to an organisation authorised by a legal regulator?"

The SRA will launch a formal consultation on the proposed changes in spring 2016. There will be further consultations as part of a phased review over the next 18 months.

"We expect that it will be Spring 2017, at the earliest, before any changes come into force," the regulator said.


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