Safeguards needed to offset exponential rise in regulator fining powers, says Law Society
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is set to reform its approach to financial penalties including an increase of its fining powers by 1,150% without balancing these changes with appropriate safeguards, the Law Society of England and Wales said.
“It is disappointing the SRA intends to seek an increase to its fining powers to £25,000,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce. She continued:
“In our consultation response, we agreed that a moderate increase in the fining threshold of between £5,000 to £7,500 would assist the SRA in making decisions in a greater number of straightforward cases.
This would help 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.”
Boyce went on to voice the Law Society’s concerns regarding the size of the increase in the SRA’s fining powers and the planned reforms:
“We remain of the view that increasing the SRA’s fining powers by more than 12 times (representing an increase of 1150%) isn’t appropriate, and our members have concerns about the SRA acting as investigator, prosecutor and judge, in potentially many more serious and significant cases which currently go before the independent SDT.
The independence of the SDT from both the regulator and the profession, its clearly defined processes and transparency, mean that solicitors generally have more confidence in the SDT’s decision-making processes.
However, the right of appeal to the SDT is not an adequate safeguard. Many firms and individuals faced with challenging an adverse decision from the SRA would find the prospect of an appeal and the associated costs of appealing daunting.
Furthermore, a solicitor facing an SRA investigation has to be aware of the high likelihood that they may bear the regulator’s costs as well as their own.
We will continue to work in the best interests of our members and will keep them informed of any impending changes. Robust and fair regulation is essential for the public interest.”