Axiom Ince report following SSB scandal kicked back due to election

An independent review of the regulatory actions of the Solicitors Regulation Authority(SRA) in the lead up to the collapse of Sheffield law firm SSB has been delayed due to the election. This comes after clients expressed concerns regarding the authority’s initial response to SSB’s ‘negligence’. 

It has been reported that former SSB Group clients have spoken of their ‘panic and anxiety’ after receiving phone calls from the SRA following the scandal, with the Legal Services Board(LSB) announcing an additional review in December 2023, which was initially pledged to be released in Spring of this year. After Rishi Sunak announced a general election for July 4th last month, the LSB’s probe into the SRA’s intervention into Axiom Ince has been stalled.

The LSB partnered with the law firm Carson McDowell to carry out the investigation. As Carson McDowell is based in Northern Ireland, it is not regulated by the SRA. The board have said that considering the grave ‘consumer detriment’ following SSB’s downfall they feel it is ‘important to understand the regulatory events in relation to both firms’.

The LSB has faced criticism from the International Bar Association (IBA), who said the super-regulator was an example of ‘‘external involvement in the regulatory scheme, and where there is some executive control over the regulatory process the risk of infringements on lawyers’ professional independence is greater.” MPs have also come forward to claim the regulatory body could be under the influence of low-key external control, despite claiming independence.

Legal Futures reported that MP Debra Sofia, administrator for the SSB Victim Support Group following the firm’s highly publicised collapse, commented:

‘We want to see the SSB investigation report and an explanation for why no action had been taken. Many victims are angry that they didn’t pick up on SSB’s negligence.

‘It’s interesting to note that LSB is investigating SRA and concerning to note that LSB is funded by a levy on the bodies they regulate and SRA is funded by legal firms they regulate. How can this be ‘independent’?’

However the LSB say they too are ‘deeply concerned about the impact of SSB’s collapse’ and have extended ‘understanding’ to victims – whose cases are now in the process of being transferred and handled by other firms. The board claims they have been in touch with the SSB Victim Support Group to notify victims that they will be invited to provide information, despite victims’ accounts of ‘surprise’ contact from the SRA for telephone interviews.

An LSB spokesman said:

“We are deeply concerned about the impact of SSB Group Limited’s collapse and understand how devasting it is for victims. Our review of the events and steps or actions taken by the SRA is underway, and we have been in touch with the SSB support group to let them know that victims will be invited to provide information.”

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