SRA launches consultation on fining regime reforms
The new regime would include fixed fines for lower-level misconduct
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has launched a consultation on its planned reforms to financial penalties for law firms and solicitors.
Among the areas on which it is consulting are steps to improve the openness and robustness of its procedures, including:
- Explicit rules to clarify that fines are imposed by functionally independent adjudicators;
- Publication of guidance on its decision-making processes and procedures, “to better demonstrate the safeguards in place to ensure a fair and transparent process”;
- A new programme of fixed fines for lower-level misconduct;
- New arrangements to set the level of fines for both firms and individuals, linked directly to bandings which are based on percentages of income/turnover;
- Piloting the use of victim impact statements for cases involving sexual misconduct, discrimination or any form of harassment.
Following feedback from an earlier consultation on the principles behind the fines, the SRA has also published a short statement which explains the processes which currently underpin the financial penalty decision-making and summarises what it is looking to change.
Alongside the consultation, the regulator has published proposed updates to its Enforcement Strategy and supporting guidance. These changes make clear how in future a financial penalty alone is highly unlikely to be considered the appropriate sanction in areas such as sexual misconduct, harassment, or discrimination.
Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, said: “The overwhelming majority of solicitors meet the standards we all expect, but when they don’t, we step in to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession. The changes we proposed will help to resolve issues more quickly, saving time and cost for everyone and, importantly, reducing the inevitable stress for those in our enforcement processes.
“We received broad support for our original proposals, but we recognise that with stronger powers comes a need for even greater transparency and accountability. The SRA Board has been concerned therefore to ensure that we review our approach in the round, not only to implement the original proposals, but also to change our processes where necessary, and we cover this in our statement. Please read it in conjunction with the consultation and give us your views so we can make sure our new regime is clearly fair, transparent and proportionate.”
In July 2022, the Ministry of Justice introduced legislation which saw an increase in the level of fine the SRA could directly issue to ‘traditional’ law firms and those who work within them. The limit was raised from £2,000 to £25,000.
The SRA said the reforms aim to help resolve cases more quickly, saving time, cost and stress for all involved, improve public protection and ensure a fining regime that acts as an effective deterrent.
The consultation on the SRA’s detailed proposals runs until Monday 14 November.