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We make ‘difficult decisions’: SRA responds to junior lawyers’ protection concerns following controversial whistleblower case

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Regulator doubles down

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has doubled down on its decision to prosecute a former trainee solicitor for fraud despite being the one to bring the misconduct at the firm to the regulator’s attention.

In a letter to the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) (in full below), the regulator said it aims to act fairly and proportionately for everyone, whilst getting the right outcome to adequately protect clients and the public from risk and uphold confidence in the profession. This, the SRA stressed, “can sometimes require making difficult decisions and a careful balancing act”.

The regulator’s letter comes in response to concerns from the JLD that “vulnerable” rookie lawyers were not being afforded the relevant levels of protection under the regulator’s current approach.

In an open letter to the SRA, the JLD cited two recent rulings by the High Court and Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Sovani James, a former junior solicitor was struck off last year for forging legal documents in an attempt to show that a client’s case was progressing. This despite the SDT hearing claims that James’ “toxic and uncaring” firm had adopted a “sudden focus on financial return on employees”.

The JLD also referenced the more recent case of Emily Scott, a former trainee solicitor who was struck off despite the SDT accepting she’d been “deceived, pressured, bullied and manipulated” by a senior lawyer at her former firm. Scott, who eventually blew the whistle on her firm’s misconduct, was found to have acted dishonestly in matters concerning client funds.

In response to this, the SRA said:

“In the cases in question, you have highlighted the powerful judicial comments describing the pressures the individuals were under and the unhealthy environments in which they worked. In both cases, their circumstances were taken into account and balanced against their culpability.”

Continuing, the regulator stressed that “in appropriate cases we are able to — and have — found that a solicitor’s mental health was such that could be held responsible for their actions; or that their workplace environment, or lack of support or supervision, has excused professional mistakes or failures in judgment.

The letter, signed by SRA’s chief executive, Paul Philip, comes just weeks after the regulator revealed it was reviewing its whistleblower’s charter, specifically the guidance relating to the reporting of sensitive information and the protections afforded to those who come forward. At the same time, Philip defended the decision to strike off Scott, telling journalists that sanction fell within a range of “reasonable outcomes” for the tribunal.

Junior Lawyer Division committee member, Kayleigh Leonie, will be speaking at the mental health and wellbeing panel session during this year’s Legal Cheek Future of Legal Education and Training Conference on Wednesday 22 May at Kings Place London. Tickets (first release) are available to purchase at the rate of £240 + VAT.

15 Comments

Anonymous

Excuses, excuses, excuses typical SRA

Anonymous

They have to justify their existence somehow, and find a large source of cash to justify their pay.

Anonymous

“We’re dealing with difficult situations” is always the response of any government or body when they behalf totally unreasonably and ruin someone’s life.

Anonymous

So basically trainees and junior Sols will be covering up and not whistleblowing as it will result in career suicide.

Anonymous

Try whistleblowing when asked to do something illegal rather than defrauding clients until you think your career is safe.

Anonymous

What a load of crap. Try addressing the root cause which is numerous toxic legal firms abusing and coercing trainees on a daily basis. The SRA are more interested in trashing vulnerable trainees and facilitating the corruption. Imagine what they’d find if they actually got of their backsides and audited these companies….. CST.!!!

Anoymous

Also as a trainee by definition she was vulnerable. The SRA are wrong. How the hell can you be mentally stable when your boss is abusing you? On what planet is that lawful…??
Makes me sick. Regulators….they couldn’t regulate a tap.

Just Anonymous

SRA v James was a terrible judgment which effectively said (being slightly flippant):

“You have to consider this factor, this factor and this factor…but basically the conclusion you always have to come to is to strike them off.”

Obviously, Flaux LJ did not say anything so absurd, but the Emily Scott case shows that, in reality, that is effectively how his judgment is being interpreted – and applied.

Even if Sovani James were rightly decided, Emily Scott’s case is plainly distinguishable from it. The latter was a trainee who came under direct coercive pressure to perform the inappropriate and (crucially) then blew the whistle on it. Sovani James was not directly pressured into anything and was not a whistle blower.

At the very least, Scott’s case should have been judged on its own specific facts. On my reading of the decision however, the Tribunal simply cited James to support the general proposition that horrendous work environments could not excuse dishonesty and took that as the end of the analysis. I find that deeply regrettable.

Tommy

In the end trainees and juniors are doomed in these situations and after treatment of these cases, hell will freeze over before anyone even thinks of whistleblowing in the future.

Anonymous

Keep your mouth shut and eyes closed and move on ASAP. Reap what you have sown SRA.

Anonymous

More deletions than comments as usual…

End of

this simply ensures whistleblowers blow theirs in a prompt fashion. An excellent decision and the SRA should be applauded

Elder

Disgraceful, indefensible, and totally unacceptable.

Lord Harley of Counsel

They allowed me on the Roll. That wasn’t a hard decision.

Well done.....like my steak

So, the take away message is don’t whistleblow. If you see fraud, bullying, abuse, malpractice etc just walk on by.

Thanks SRA for that great life lesson.

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