Proposals laid out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for changes to its rules on health and wellbeing at work are not supported by evidence, the Law Society of England and Wales said on Friday.
The SRA’s consultation is aiming to clarify the regulatory requirements for solicitors and firms in the areas of health and fitness to practise and the appropriate treatment of work colleagues. The SRA proposes introducing new regulatory powers in these areas.
Commenting on the changes, Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said:
“We share the SRA’s wish to support a healthy profession where everyone is afforded respect and dignity. However, we oppose the need to introduce additional regulation to achieve this.
Existing SRA principles cover solicitors’ duty to act with integrity, uphold public confidence in the profession and encourage equality, diversity and inclusion.”
Boyce explained on the Society’s concerns regarding the new regulations:
“We do not believe the SRA has provided sufficient evidence to justify the introduction of additional regulatory requirements.
We would like to see more guidance and communications to highlight good practice, particularly around speaking up and challenging behaviour in the workplace. Such guidance should be sensitive to how difficult it can be for some people to speak out, such as junior staff or those in a minority.
We oppose these proposals dealing with health concerns that could affect how a solicitor provides services to their clients. They are unclear, lacking in transparency and run a high risk of being used in a wider way than has been covered by the consultation – which suggests they would primarily be used with an individual’s ability to engage with enforcement processes.
The proposed new rules could see solicitors have conditions placed on their practising certificates at any point, they could be required to provide confidential medical information, and that this could have a knock on effect on the attitudes of employers towards affected individuals.
Given these risks, the SRA should have a strong body of evidence to introduce this proposal and they do not.”
The Law Society president concluded by reiterating the Society’s offer to work with the regulators on the issue:
“The Law Society’s offer to work with the SRA on this issue stands. Solicitors engaged in regulatory work have in-depth knowledge of the issues the SRA raises and the Lawyers with Disabilities Division should be involved in any proposals that could affect their members.”