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SDT standard of proof rule changes

11 April 2019

The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) announced it will apply to adopt the civil standard of proof when it hears cases brought by the regulator.

The Law Society is disappointed with the SDT’s decision on behalf of its members.

Last year, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal consulted on the making of procedural rules in relation to first instance applications to the Tribunal.

Within this consultation, it invited views on whether it should apply the civil standard of proof (‘on the balance of probabilities’) instead of the criminal standard of proof (‘beyond reasonable doubt’) when considering allegations of misconduct, in line with other professional disciplinary bodies.

The SDT published its response earlier this week stating it intends to apply to the Legal Services Board for changes to its rules to adopt the civil standard of proof.

If the proposed rule changes go ahead, the standard of proof rules will change from 25 November 2019 in line with the new SRA Handbook rules coming into force.

In anticipation of the SDT’s consultation, the Law Society proactively engaged with its members regarding the standard of proof.

We published a discussion paper in October 2017 and a summary of your responses to the member discussion paper in April 2018.

When the SDT consulted on whether it should apply the civil instead of the criminal standard of proof when considering allegations of misconduct, the Law Society was in a good position to represent members’ views.

The Law Society strongly advocated for the retention of the criminal standard of proof.

In our view, a move away from the criminal standard of proof would increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice against individual solicitors.

Read our full consultation response

Arguably, a lower standard of proof will result in increased referrals to the SDT and the Law Society remains concerned for its members.

We will monitor the situation when the new provisions are in place and continue to defend solicitors’ interests.

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