The Legal Services Board (LSB) has announced that it plans to review the enforcement and investigative tools available to legal services regulators, including the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
This could include increasing financial penalties available to regulators, as well as enabling regulators to proactively gather information and share intelligence to help them detect and address misconduct.
This is in response to the LSB’s long-held view that existing penalties may be insufficient to deter wilful and serious misconduct in some areas.
The LSB already has work underway to review regulators’ disciplinary and enforcement processes, following weaknesses identified through its annual regulatory performance assessments.
The LSB will assess the progress made by regulators in addressing these weaknesses as it considers the case for strengthening the enforcement tools available to them.
Alan Kershaw, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said:
‘The public rightly expects that lawyers in England and Wales will uphold the highest professional standards and ethical conduct.
For some time, we have been concerned that a lack of effective fining powers among some regulators, particularly the Solicitors Regulation Authority, may hamper their ability to tackle wilful and serious misconduct. We are anxious to ensure that regulators have the most effective tools available to identify and deal with such misconduct.”
Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja has responded and said that the SRA’s power to “discipline and fine solicitors who commit misconduct was increased very recently”. She added:
“More serious matters continue to be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT). There is no evidence that the SRA’s current fining powers are insufficient.
The SRA does not exist on its own in the regulatory process. It sits alongside the SDT, which already has draconian powers to sanction any wrong-doing in the solicitors’ profession. These include not only fining powers but also the ability to remove a solicitor from the profession altogether.
The SDT remains the appropriate forum for serious cases of alleged misconduct. It is independent from the regulator and has clearly defined processes. This transparency means that solicitors, clients, and the general public can have confidence in the SDT’s decision making processes.”
Shuja also stated that they strongly oppose any proposals to further increase the current financial penalties available to the SRA. She added:
“This request appears to be a knee jerk reaction to the recent media investigation into a very small number of solicitors, who have been quickly dealt with by way of interim measures while their cases are properly considered.”