Independence and integrity

Why this risk matters

  • Public confidence in how legal services are delivered is an essential part of the rule of law. Solicitors must meet our high professional standards, and this includes acting with integrity and independence.
  • Solicitors owe a duty of care to their client as their trusted adviser, but they also owe duties to third parties, the court and the wider public interest. We have concerns about the conduct of some solicitors involved in certain types of litigation or claims, notably personal injury, payment protection insurance recovery and tax avoidance schemes.
  • The duty to act with integrity and independence applies to all areas of legal practice, including how staff within law firms are treated. For example, the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) when dealing with allegations of misconduct at work.

Trends

  • Reports relating to a lack of integrity remain fairly static at around 330 in both 2016 and 2017.
  • Most of these reports do not result in disciplinary action, with many reflect misunderstandings, from the opponent, of the solicitor’s role. However, some cases result in fines, rebukes and, in the most serious cases, a referral to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
  • We receive around 12 reports per year of sexual harassment in law firms. A Legal Week survey suggested that two thirds of female lawyers had been harassed at work, so there may be some under-reporting. The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal recently suspended a solicitor from practice for two years after being convicted of sexual assault.

Actions

  • Our report on balancing duties in litigation gives more information about managing the different duties that solicitors owe.
  • Solicitors should read our warning notices on the conduct of personal injury and payment protection insurance claims.
  • We issued a warning notice about involvement in tax avoidance.
  • Solicitors must not use NDAs to deter an individual from reporting misconduct or crime, from making a protected disclosure, or from cooperating with a criminal investigation or prosecution. We have published a warning notice and FAQs ethics guidance which give more detail about these issues. Serious breaches of the high standards we expect of solicitors must be reported to us promptly.

Further information

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