Last updated 13 March 2013
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is the independent regulatory body of the Law Society in England and Wales, regulating solicitors and solicitor practices.
The SRA is a public authority for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and is bound by the public sector equality duty which came into effect on 5 April 2011. The duty covers the following equality groups, referred to by the Act as protected characteristics:
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sex, and
- sexual orientation
The equality duty requires the SRA, in the exercise of its public functions, to have due regard to the need to
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, and
- foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
The equality duty is supported by a set of specific duties, which are set out in the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations 2011 and requires named public authorities (including the SRA) to set equality objectives and publish equality information. These regulations came into force on 10 September 2011.
As a public authority, the SRA also has a legal duty to work in a way that complies with human rights and we monitor this through our equality and human rights impact assessment programme.
The Equality Framework and its supporting documents set out our strategic approach to equality and diversity at the SRA, explaining how we are complying with our equality and human rights duties and identifying the key equality issues for us as an employer and in relation to our regulatory functions and services.
We will update the Equality Framework each year, reporting progress from the previous year and setting out our equality objectives which will flow directly from and support the SRA's strategy and business plan. The equality and diversity progress report for 2011 is published and we will publish the progress report for 2012 in the summer 2013.
The SRA's regulatory objectives, vision and values
Our regulatory objectives
In common with the Legal Services Board and other legal services regulators, the SRA is bound by the regulatory objectives set out in the Legal Services Act in:
- protecting and promoting the public interest
- supporting the constitutional principle of the rule of law
- improving access to justice
- protecting and promoting the interests of consumers
- promoting competition in the provision of services
- encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession
- increasing public understanding of the citizen's legal rights and duties, and
- promoting and maintaining adherence to the professional principles.
These regulatory objectives underpin all our work at the SRA.
Our vision and values
Our vision is to be the leading regulator of legal services; recognised for the outcomes we achieve in the public interest and the way in which we achieve them.
Equality and human rights are central elements of this vision and will enable the SRA to be
- a fair employer which recruits, develops and retains a diverse and talented workforce
- a fair regulator, which is open, proportionate, non-discriminatory and transparent in the way it regulates a diverse profession, and
- an inclusive and stakeholder-focused organisation.
Our values will guide our work and provide the framework for how we will develop as an organisation. Equality and diversity are embedded in our values which are focused on four key areas:
- We act in the public interest and promote and protect the interests of consumers of legal services,
- We work collaboratively and engage constructively with all of our stakeholders,
- We value our people – we work together to achieve our objectives,
- We constantly seek to improve the effectiveness of our regulation and the efficiency with which we achieve our objectives.
Our equality objectives are designed to help us focus on our priorities for equality and diversity in the SRA and should be read in conjunction with our vision and values and our regulatory objectives.
The SRA as an employer
We currently have over 550 employees based since September 2012 at our new Midlands offices in the Cube in Birmingham or in our London office.
Although the SRA operates its regulatory functions independently of the Law Society, we are part of the Law Society Group and our key support services (human resource and development, finance, IT, and procurement) are provided by services shared with the Law Society.
The SRA is committed to promoting a diverse and inclusive working environment for our staff which means eliminating unfair discrimination, promoting equality and diversity in all activities and fostering an inclusive and respectful culture. This includes the full use of talent, skills, experience and different cultural perspectives to ensure that employees are respected and valued in the workplace.
Our staff diversity policy is supported by a range of other policies across the group including our
- religious and cultural observance policy
- bullying and harassment policy statement
- flexible working policy
- discipline and grievance policies, and
- recruitment policies.
We publish diversity monitoring data for our employment activities and carry out regular staff attitude surveys which helps us monitor progress.
Our board and committee members
The SRA is governed by the SRA Board which is made up of seven solicitors including the chair and eight lay members. The board is supported by six committees and groups, one of which is the Equality and Diversity Board Group comprising the SRA Chair and two board members, which oversees our progress on equality and diversity and reports to the full board.
Many of the regulatory decisions that the SRA makes about the conduct of solicitors and firms are taken by external adjudicators. We have a panel of adjudicators who make decisions such as whether to reprimand a solicitor or refer them to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, whether to intervene (close down) a firm, and decisions on entry to the Roll of Solicitors by students and foreign lawyers. For complex cases and for some appeals, a panel of three adjudicators will make the decision.
The SRA as a regulator
To help us ensure that our regulatory decisions are fair and transparent we have adopted a set of decision-making principles. These form part of our Decision Making Framework which sets out our approach to formal regulatory decision making. The first principle is that decisions should be based on the application of guidelines or criteria, which should be
- (a) fair to all individuals and groups regardless of any of the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010
- (b) published and transparent, and
- (c) applied consistently.
For all of the regulatory decisions that we can make, we have published criteria against which those decisions are made. These decision making criteria are being assessed for their impact on equality with priority given to those in higher risk areas.
Handling complaints about the SRA
We are committed to providing a high standard of service and to dealing with everyone fairly and equally. It is essential that the public, consumers of legal advice, the profession and other stakeholders have trust and confidence that we will carry out our responsibilities fairly and without unlawful discrimination.
We understand that we may not always get it right and have a three-stage complaints procedure to help us respond effectively to complaints that we receive. The final stage of the procedure is provided by an external body, the Independent Complaints Review Service which considers individual complaints that we have not been able to resolve internally and which also provides oversight of our complaints-handling function.
Through the complaints policy, we challenge discrimination by dealing thoroughly and sensitively with complaints of discrimination, making sure that staff are trained to deal with discrimination complaints and reviewing the incidence and outcomes of discrimination complaints and using the findings to improve the way that we work.
Monitoring regulatory outcomes
We monitor our regulatory work and for a number of key regulatory areas we publish annual monitoring data broken down by equality groups.
Since 2004, it has been clear that Black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors are over-represented in many of our regulatory activities. Understanding the possible causes of this has proved difficult but the work we commissioned from Pearn Kandola to look at the data, gave us a much more detailed view of where disproportionality is arising, and where we should be directing our efforts.
The Pearn Kandola report is published on our website and the work we have done to deliver the recommendations was set out in our progress report published in December 2011. The recommendations were included in our equality and diversity action plan for 2011/12 and our further work in this area will be reported through our annual equality and diversity reports.
Promoting equality in the profession
One of our regulatory objectives is to "encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession." One of the ways that we can encourage diversity as the regulator, is by setting standards for equality and diversity in the profession.
Principle 9 of the SRA Handbook requires solicitors to "run [their] business or carry out [their] role in the business in a way that encourages equality of opportunity and respect for diversity" and chapter 2 of the Handbook sets out the expected outcomes for equality and diversity in the profession.
We are looking in more detail at how we can more effectively encourage diversity in the profession in the context of our new risk-based outcomes-focused approach to regulation and will be using the results of our thematic supervision work with firms about complying with Principle 9 to consider how best we can supervise firms to improve practice in this area.
The SRA's role in protecting consumers
Our regulatory objectives are clear about the importance of understanding the needs of consumers of legal services and the wider public. We are required to protect and promote the interests of consumers and the public, as well as promote access to justice and increase public understanding of their legal rights and duties.
We are implementing our consumer strategy, Empowering Consumers, holding events and conducting consumer research to inform our work.
The SRA's approach to stakeholder engagement
Inclusive engagement is an essential part of our equality and diversity work at the SRA and we have published our Engagement strategy, which explains our approach.
Inclusive engagement is about actively encouraging and supporting the participation of all individuals and organisations interested in our regulatory approach, our guidance and our policies and our procedures. It is deeper than simple consultation or communication, and generally requires a long-term process of building and maintaining relationships and planning a programme of activity, rather than a one-off event.
In recent years we have been proactive in our engagement with the profession, holding webinars and roadshows across England and Wales to explain our work and listen to the feedback.
One of our key successes has been the improved engagement we have established with the diverse sectors in the profession, ranging from sole practitioners to large city firms. We will continue to be proactive, improving contact with diverse groups and working with them where we can.
Publishing our equality information
The equality legislation requires the SRA to publish sufficient information to demonstrate that we have complied with our general equality duty.
We will be publishing our equality information in the four categories set out below.
The first category of data that we will publish is the data that we collect in relation to our workforce, which includes diversity monitoring data for staff, adjudicators, board and committee members. We will also publish employment data for staff in relation to a range of employment activities.
Regulatory outcomes data
The next category will be the data that we collect in relation to key areas of our regulatory activity which will change as we develop our approach to outcomes-focused regulation.
Our regulatory outcomes data will be broken down by age, disability, ethnicity and gender from 2011 onwards. We do not have enough data from the profession to publish statistical data broken down by religion or belief or by sexual orientation but we will keep this under review.
Equality impact assessments
The next category will be the equality impact assessments that we have done on our new policies and procedures and our decision-making criteria. We have developed our approach to equality and human rights impact assessment at the SRA to ensure that our approach is proportionate and evidence-based. Work across the SRA is quality assured by the Diversity and Inclusion team and staff are provided with guidance support and training as required.
We are committed to transparency in our equality work but also want to be proportionate and relevant in the information that we publish. Information about the specific equality and human rights impact of our work will be made available to our senior management team and the SRA Board and Committees as appropriate and included where relevant in our consultation documents. However, only the final equality impact assessment reports will be published on our equality and diversity web pages.
We recognise that strong leadership will be critical in delivering our outcomes for equality and diversity and, as such, strategic accountability for equality and diversity rests with the SRA's Board, the chief executive and the senior management team and supported by senior managers on the SRA's leadership group who are firmly committed to this area of work.
To re-enforce this commitment, a number of groups have been set up whose role includes discussing equality and diversity concerns, providing feedback to inform progress, reporting on progress and having oversight of the action plan.
The groups include:
- the Equality and Diversity Board group which is part of our board and committee governance structure and oversees our progress;
- the staff diversity working group which supports the work that we are doing to meet our equality objectives; and
- the External Implementation group, made up of the chairs of the equality groups representing BME solicitors and chaired by Lord Herman Ouseley. The group was set up to oversee the SRA's implementation of Lord Ouseley's recommendations following his 2008 report about the disproportionate regulatory outcomes for BME solicitors.
In addition we have regular meetings to discuss issues and report progress to other groups, such as the Lawyers with Disabilities division and the Sole Practitioners' group.
Our Equality Framework sets out how we are meeting our public equality duties across our different roles as an employer, as a regulator and in respect of our role in protecting consumers.
An essential element of this work is inclusive stakeholder engagement and our engagement strategy, our consumer engagement strategy and our communications strategy provide a framework for how we will be working with our main stakeholder groups.
For details about our current equality objectives, supporting action plan and EIA schedule please follow the links provided.