Regulation

SRA plans to increase fining powers twelvefold

We’ve warned the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) that a proposal to hike its fining powers from £2,000 to £25,000 is not appropriate.

Worried woman sat at desk looking at bill
Photograph: FG Trade

The SRA consulted on changes to its powers to impose financial penalties on firms and individuals that do not meet professional standards, including proposals to:

  • increase the limit of internal fines it can impose before referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) from £2,000 to £25,000
  • review the principles underpinning the fining framework
  • calculate the appropriate level of fine to achieve a deterrent effect

An inappropriate increase

The SRA increasing its fining powers by more than 12 times the current limit is not 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 decisions are transparently set out in written judgments and published on the SDT website," said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

"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."

Our response to the SRA consultation

A moderate increase to the fining threshold would assist the SRA in making decisions in a greater number of straightforward cases, which is likely to speed up the process as fewer cases would be transferred to the SDT, saving costs and reducing stress.

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

It’s right that discrimination, sexual misconduct and harassment within the profession should be treated with the utmost seriousness.

The behaviours covered under these broad and distinct categories can vary substantially and arise in a wide range of circumstances.

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 discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct cases are dealt with fairly and proportionately.

Any fining framework should be:

  • fair
  • transparent
  • proportionate
  • consistent
  • a deterrent to firms and individuals from committing breaches under the SRA Codes of Conduct

Read our full response to the SRA's consultation

Resources for you and your practice

We support solicitors in recognising and handling difficult professional situations.

Our guide to ethics in law sets out your obligations under the SRA Standards and Regulations and outlines where to find support on ethical issues.

In this blog, Jonathan Hodge discusses how junior lawyers can guard against unethical behaviour in the profession.

In-house counsel teams are missing an opportunity around ethics, explains Ciarán Fenton. Find out how you can change the status quo

Check our practice note on the SRA’s powers of investigation for information about the circumstances in which you must provide documents or attend an interview.

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