Regulation

SRA’s fining powers should not be hiked to £25k

A proposal by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to hike its own fining powers from £2,000 to £25,000 today prompted solicitors’ leaders to warn such a steep increase was simply not appropriate.

In response to an SRA consultation Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “We appreciate that increasing its internal fining threshold moderately would assist the SRA in making decisions in a greater number of straight forward cases, which is likely to speed up the process, as fewer cases would be transferred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), saving costs and reducing stress for all parties concerned.

“However, increasing its fining powers by more than 12 times the current limit isn’t appropriate.

“The proposed substantial increase to the threshold would potentially include many more serious or significant cases which currently go before the SDT and where full reasons for its decisions are transparently set out in written judgements and published on the SDT website.

“Our members have concerns about the SRA acting as investigator, prosecutor and judge without independent scrutiny.

“We suggest a more appropriate rise – based on statistical data from the SDT – would be somewhere between £5,000 to £7,500, based on analysis of previous fines imposed over the last three years.”*

A fixed penalty regime has been proposed to deal with lower-level breaches of the SRA rules or non-compliance with its administrative requirements or failure to respond to requests.

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “There is insufficient information on this to be able to comment fully, however we have concerns about the administrative exercise in introducing such a model and the costs involved in setting it up when it isn’t clear what the benefits are.”

The SRA is also proposing rigid rules to deal with discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct cases.

“It is right that discrimination, sexual misconduct and harassment within the profession should be treated with the utmost seriousness,” said I. Stephanie Boyce.

“The behaviours covered under these broad and distinct categories can vary substantially and can arise in a wide range of circumstances. As such, decision-makers should have flexibility to look across the full range of possible penalties in deciding how to proceed, including imposing a financial penalty.

“All sanctions should be available to a tribunal or court to ensure that cases are dealt with fairly and proportionately. The regulator cannot restrict the powers of a tribunal or court.

“We believe any fining framework should be fair, transparent, proportionate and consistent and be a deterrent to firms and individuals from committing breaches under the SRA Codes of Conduct.”

Notes to editors

* Data taken from the SDT’s Annual Report 2020

Read the SRA’s financial penalties consultation paper

Read our full consultation response

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