Investigation and enforcement: what to expect from the SRA and SDT

This guide sets out what to expect and what support is available if you or your firm faces disciplinary investigation or enforcement action.

As a solicitor, you operate in a highly trained and regulated profession with robust consumer protections because the issues on which you advise clients and businesses are complex and risky.

The SRA Standards and Regulations 2019 set out the standards and requirements expected of individuals and firms.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority

Powers of investigation

As the regulatory body for solicitors, the role of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to protect the public by ensuring that solicitors meet high standards and to act when risks are identified.

The SRA regulates anyone who is a:

  • solicitor
  • registered European lawyer
  • registered foreign lawyer
  • an authorised body
  • recognised sole practice
  • lawyer or non-lawyer who is a manager or employee of an authorised body, or
  • an owner of an authorised body

It has powers to investigate misconduct, including the power to require solicitors to explain their conduct and produce information and documents.

The SRA’s investigatory and disciplinary powers and duties are derived from the Solicitors Act 1974 and the Legal Services Act 2007.

More information about these powers can be found in our practice note on the SRA’s powers of investigation and the SRA’s Regulatory and Disciplinary Procedure Rules.

The SRA’s approach to sanctions is guided by its enforcement strategy.

Powers to discipline

At the end of any investigation, the SRA may decide to:

  • take no action
  • take some form of disciplinary action itself, or
  • refer the matter to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT)

The maximum financial penalty the SRA can impose is £25,000 for solicitors, traditional law firms (recognised bodies or recognised sole practices) and the individuals who work in them.

The exception to this limit is cases of economic crime, when the SRA has unlimited fining powers.

Other disciplinary action it can take against solicitors includes imposing conditions on a solicitor’s practising certificate or issuing a rebuke.

If the SRA considers that client interests or money are at risk, it can take urgent protective steps and has the power to intervene (close down) a firm.

The SRA can intervene if there are grounds to intervene (such as abandonment or suspected dishonesty) and an intervention is needed to protect the public.

This does not necessarily mean it has made any findings against the regulated firm or individual at that stage.

Fining powers

Solicitors and traditional law firms

Where there has been a breach of the SRA’s Standards and Regulations, and the SRA considers a financial penalty is appropriate, it will consider the level of fine to impose.

In July 2022, the SRA’s internal fining powers for solicitors and traditional law firms increased from £2,000 to £25,000.

This means the SRA can take disciplinary action in a wider range of cases without the need to refer them to the SDT.

Solicitors, traditional law firms and their staff can all be subject to SRA fines.

We opposed the SRA's increased fining powers in our responses to its November 2021 and August 2022 consultations.

Read the SRA’s guidance on financial penalties to learn more about its approach to setting appropriate financial penalties.

Licensed bodies

Since 2011, the SRA has been able to fine alternative business structures (ABSs) up to £250 million and an individual working at an ABS up to £50 million.

These structures fall outside the SDT’s jurisdiction.

Economic crime offences

Under section 207 of the Economic Crime and Transparency Act 2023, the SRA can issue unlimited fines for economic crime offences.

Fixed financial penalties for firms

For certain prescribed lower-level breaches of its rules, the SRA can impose fixed financial penalties for firms – up to a maximum of £1,500.

Read the SRA’s statement on financial penalties

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal

The SDT is an independent statutory tribunal. It imposes disciplinary sanctions after making a finding of misconduct or following an admission of misconduct.

It has more extensive powers than the SRA, such as:

  • the power to suspend or strike a solicitor off the roll of solicitors
  • unlimited fining powers in all matters

These powers are set out in section 47 of the Solicitors Act 1974.

The SRA refers the most serious cases of professional misconduct to the SDT.

The likely result in cases regarding individuals if allegations are proven or admitted would be a sanction such as a suspension or strike off that would stop an individual from practising and/or a fine.

The SDT also deals with cases against authorised entities where the likely financial penalty exceeds £25,000 (except in cases relating to licensed bodies, which are reserved to the SRA and where its powers already provide for maximum penalties of up to £250 million).

Cases are heard by a panel of two solicitors and one lay member.

Each case will always be considered on its own facts and circumstances in accordance with the SRA’s referral test.

This is the test the SRA applies when making decisions to issue proceedings against regulated individuals and firms before the SDT.

The SRA can bring proceedings before the SDT against solicitors and their employees, as well as those they regulate as outlined above.

The tribunal also:

  • determines applications for restoration to the roll of solicitors and the ending of suspension from practice
  • hears appeals in relation to certain internal SRA decisions

All SDT decisions are subject to a right of appeal to the High Court.

Find out more about the SDT

Helplines and support

If you are a solicitor or someone who works for a solicitors’ firm and have been contacted by the SRA about compliance or disciplinary issues, you should seek legal advice as early as possible.

Search the Find a Solicitor database

Law Society helplines

Our free and confidential helplines offer practical support to solicitors and their employees on professional and personal issues:

  • Practice Advice Service – for support on legal practice
  • Lawyerline – for guidance on client care and handling complaints
  • pastoral care helpline – for personal, financial or employment difficulties

Contact our helplines

All our helplines are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Other support services

We also work with partner organisations to provide support for a wide range of issues, both professional and personal.


LawCare offers free confidential support, information and training to lawyers, their staff and their immediate families to help with mental health and wellbeing problems.

Opening times: 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday


Phone: 0800 279 6888

Professional ethics helpline

The SRA's professional ethics helpline for solicitors offers advice on the SRA Standards and Regulations to solicitors, trainees and solicitor apprentices.

You can choose to remain anonymous.

Call 0370 6062577 from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm, Monday to Friday.

Chat with the team online between 9am and 10am, 1pm and 2pm, and 4pm and 5pm, Monday to Friday (closed on Wednesday).

Solicitors’ Charity

The Solicitors’ Charity provides financial, emotional and practical support to help people take back control.


Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme

The Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme offers free confidential help and advice for all solicitors in England and Wales, and their families and employees, on any problem, whether personal or professional.


Case reports

We’re here to support solicitors in recognising and handling difficult professional situations.

This includes practical resources and world-class learning to help you mitigate your risks, as well as case reports that explore some of the consequences of misconduct.

Discover our support for solicitors on ethical issues

Professional indemnity insurance (PII)

The SRA minimum terms and conditions for PII do not provide cover for defence costs for disciplinary proceedings by the SRA or the SDT.

If you are concerned about lacking cover for defence costs of SRA disciplinary proceedings or SDT cases, you should discuss the availability of such a policy with your PII broker or insurer.

For more information, read our practice note on PII.

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