The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will be asking for views on potential agreed outcomes for those who have breached the Code of Conduct, but then disclose their and others’ misconduct.
A key objective of the policy is to enable the SRA to receive information that will help it to take public protection action when necessary. The SRA's Board has agreed to consult on its draft Co-operation Agreement Policy.
Comments are invited on the idea of imposing more lenient sanctions on those involved who are helpful during investigations. If the policy is adopted, the Authority would enter into co-operation agreements with possible witnesses who might also be in some regulatory difficulties. They would provide full disclosure and, if necessary, give live evidence in a court or tribunal. Their own conduct would be dealt with as part of the agreement.
David Middleton, SRA Director for Legal & Enforcement, said: "We see a number of cases that might benefit if potential witnesses, who may themselves have been involved in some wrong-doing, could come forward and be offered leniency as part of a co-operation agreement. Respondents to investigations are already aware that the early correction of problems and co-operating generally with us can significantly mitigate any failures on their part. Earlier identification of problems could reduce the impact on clients and the Compensation Fund or insurers.
"In that context, a co-operation agreement scheme would be another step forward in encouraging disclosure and co-operation. It would be particularly beneficial in providing transparency both for those who might wish to take advantage of it, but also the public, our staff and stakeholders as to how the scheme operates."
The SRA will also be publishing its Whistle-blowers Charter, which sets out the SRA's approach to receiving information about serious regulatory failure or risk from both the regulated community and members of the public. It's thought that having a Co-operation Agreements Policy in place may improve the speed at which an increased number of potential investigations can be dealt with.
The Financial Services Authority has introduced its own leniency scheme, and consultation feedback before its introduction included comments on how a lack of such an amnesty from other regulators could damage its success. Between 2007 and 2009, it is reported that calls to the FSA's dedicated whistle-blowing line doubled and the FSA's Director of Enforcement said the leniency scheme has been "used to good effect". The Office of Fair Trading carries a promise of similar incentive on its website.
The consultation will go live later this month and will appear on the SRA's consultation pages.
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