On 22 August 2022, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published a statement setting out changes, and proposed changes, to its fining powers. As well as amounting to a wide-scale change to the SRA’s processes, this is likely to lead to a reduction in the number of cases referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The statement follows an SRA consultation paper published in November 2021, in which the SRA specifically sought views on whether allegations of sexual misconduct should be considered as unsuitable for a financial penalty.
Many recent cases of alleged sexual misconduct referred to the SDT received financial penalties. The SRA has now questioned whether any sanction short of restrictions on practice is sufficient to meet the public’s expectations.
The consultation paper made specific reference to changes made by the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS). In its revised sanctions guidance dated January 2022, the BTAS removed fines as an option in sexual misconduct matters, increasing the starting point to 12 months’ suspension.
As a result of its earlier consultation, the SRA adopted a number of new principles, which will guide its focus on key changes to be made. Having done so, the SRA has now opened a new consultation which sets out its detailed proposals for implementing agreed reforms and asks for views on key points.
Anna Bradley, Chair of the SRA Board, said:
The aim of the reforms proposed is to help cases to be resolved much more quickly, saving time, cost and stress for all involved, improve public protection and ensure a fining regime that acts as an effective deterrent.
The SRA states that following its consultation last year, it is moving forward with its proposal to amend guidance to highlight that financial penalties will only be considered for cases of sexual misconduct, discrimination and harassment of any form, in exceptional circumstances. Instead, restrictions on practice, suspension or strike off are considered more appropriate.
In relation to such cases, the consultation states:
Typically, those cases are serious in nature and raise attitudinal issues that present a risk to others. This suggests that restriction on practice is required to protect others, and to maintain public confidence in the profession. We will therefore usually refer such cases to the SDT to consider a suspension or a strike off.
The SRA is also consulting on the use of victim impact statements for cases involving sexual misconduct, discrimination or any form of harassment. The consultation closes on 14 November 2022.
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