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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

SRA issues new guidance on sexual misconduct in law firms

SRA issues new guidance on sexual misconduct in law firms


Complaints about sexual misconduct in law firms are on the rise

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has produced new guidance on sexual misconduct within law firms. The guidance sets out what the regulator expects from firms and individuals and illustrates the types of behaviours that are unacceptable and may lead to regulatory action.

The number of complaints about sexual misconduct at law firms made to the SRA has risen significantly since the regulator issued a warning notice about non-disclosure agreements in March 2018.

Since 2018, 251 reports have been made to the SRA relating to potential sexual misconduct, compared to just 30 in the preceding five years. Meanwhile, the SRA has 117 on-going investigations.

A recurring issue in many cases is how far a solicitor’s regulatory obligations apply to both their professional and private lives; the new guidance seeks to address this by providing a number of illustrative examples.

The guidance has been produced after extensive engagement with law firms and public and professional representative groups. The SRA also considered relevant recent judgments. To accompany the guidance, the regulator has updated its existing guidance on acting with integrity.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: “We take reports of sexual misconduct seriously. These can be sensitive and difficult issues and we want to be clear about our expectations, not least for firms, as people often come to us because they are dissatisfied with the way their firm has dealt with their concerns.

“Importantly, as we said in 2020, the Beckwith judgment made it clear that it was ‘common sense’ that upholding our principles of acting with integrity could reach into a solicitor’s private life. So alongside, we are also publishing updated guidance on acting with integrity. I urge everyone to take time to read the new guidance.’

The SRA has also published new guidance on its approach to considering regulatory action where a solicitor is convicted of a criminal offence in relation to matters of principle or social conscience, for example when involved in a protest or demonstration. It outlines what kind of disciplinary action solicitors might face in such circumstances, depending on what happened and whether they have previous history of similar incidents.