Rule-breaking lawyers beware
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will move forward with plans to significantly increase the level of fines it can dish out to law firms and solicitors who breach professional rules, it confirmed yesterday.
The move will see the maximum fine the regulator can issue internally to law firms, and those working in them, increase by over 1000%, from £2,000 to £25,000.
In determining the level of financial penalty, the SRA will now take into account the turnover of firms and the financial means of individuals, meaning — in theory — it could impose smaller fines on low-earning junior solicitors compared to wealthy City partners for similar offences.
In cases involving sexual misconduct, discrimination or any form of harassment, guidance will be changed to reflect that a financial penalty will only be considered in exceptional circumstances, with restrictions on practice, suspension or strike off the more appropriate sanction.
The SRA will also introduce a schedule of “fixed penalties” for lower-level breaches, which will allow cases to be dealt with more swiftly for those involved. The changes still require approval from the Legal Services Board.
Over 7,500 people engaged with the public consultation the regulator launched last year into the proposed changes, “with most broadly in favour”.
Anna Bradley, SRA chair, said:
“The overwhelming majority of solicitors meet the standards we all expect, but when they don’t, we step in to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession. These changes will mean we can resolve issues more quickly, saving time and cost for everyone and, importantly, reducing the inevitable stress for those in our enforcement processes.”
She added: “It was good to see broad support for our proposals, as well as getting feedback that has helped us refine our approach. It is vital that everyone can be confident that our approach is fair and transparent.”