The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has launched its consultation on Co-operation Agreements and has published the associated Whistleblowers Charter.
The SRA wants views on its proposals that those who help in protecting the public by disclosing others’ misconduct may reach an agreed outcome for failings of their own. A key objective of the policy is to encourage disclosures to the SRA that will help it to take public protection action when necessary.
The SRA Board is inviting comments on the idea of imposing reduced sanctions on those who may have been involved in misconduct, or failed to report it, but who are helpful during investigations. The arrangement would normally be recorded in a formal Co-operation Agreement.
The Whistleblowers Charter meanwhile 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. 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. It is 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.
David Middleton, SRA Director for Legal & Enforcement, said: "We anticipate cases in which potential witnesses who are worried about their own position will be more likely to come forward if there is potential certainty of regulatory outcome for them and an element of leniency consistent with the public interest. Our regulated community are required to make reports of misconduct and this proposed approach does not water that down while providing some reassurance that our concern will be the overall outcome in terms of public protection.
"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, so co-operation agreements would be another step forward in encouraging disclosure and co-operation.
"We would urge as many people as possible to respond to the consultation so that we can ensure it does the job we all need it to do."
The Financial Services Authority introduced its own leniency scheme, and between 2007 and 2009, calls to the FSA's dedicated whistle-blowing line nearly doubled. The FSA's former Director of Enforcement said that the leniency scheme had been "used to good effect". The Office of Fair Trading carries a promise of similar incentive on its website.
The consultation ends on 23 January.
More on the consultation