Law Society: SRA proposals on enforcement processes ‘do not go far enough’
Respondent not being present at an inquisition 'cannot be fair'
The Law Society today said safeguards proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to increase the transparency and accountability of its enforcement processes do not go far enough.
The SRA’s internal fining powers increased from £2,000 to £25,000 in July this year for traditional law firms and solicitors.
Law Society president Lubna Shuja said the increase meant the SRA will decide more cases of alleged misconduct in-house, instead of referring them to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
“There needs to be a clearer functional separation of the roles of investigators and adjudicators to maintain the confidence of the profession and the public. Adjudicators, as decision makers, need to be completely independent”, said Shuja.
“Adjudicators, as SRA employees, have access to the regulator’s records and can see a solicitor’s past regulatory history. This could prejudice their views and could lead to an unfair decision.
“We therefore suggest the information adjudicators can access be restricted to ensure a fairer process”.
The SRA has also proposed to give adjudicators sole discretion to invite witnesses to be interviewed to test their evidence and credibility.
Shuja said this would mean adjudicators were then acting as investigators, not decision-makers. The SRA has also proposed that a respondent would not be present at such an inquisition. Shuja said: “This cannot be fair”.
She added: “The SRA has not provided the criteria for when or how an adjudicator may exercise such a discretion meaning these proposals are ill-defined and could lead to unfair outcomes.
“We have serious concerns that adjudicators would not be acting purely in their capacity as decision makers but would instead be acting as investigators.
“The regulator proposes increasing fines against firms by up to 5% of turnover, which is excessive and unjustified”.
The Law Society urged the SRA to reconsider its proposals “to achieve the aims of justice, fairness, transparency, proportionality and consistency.”