News release

Increasing SRA fining powers could save solicitors £8,000

Increasing the fining powers of the Solicitors Regulation Authority could save transgressors in "traditional" law firms an average of £8,000 in legal costs compared to those working in ABS firms.

Wrong-doers could also find their matter dealt with around eight months more quickly if the SRA raises its upper fining limit. The Authority has launched a consultation to address the inconsistencies between the fining regimes for ABSs and traditional law firms, and is inviting comments on the proposals. The Legal Services Act allows the SRA to fine ABS firms up to £250 million and individuals within ABSs up to £50 million.

The maximum the SRA can fine traditional firms and the solicitors working in them, however, is currently limited to only £2,000 - more severe penalties need to be handed down by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), which can levy unlimited fines. If, however, the SRA's fining limit was raised, it could lead to penalties being levied more quickly and with less associated costs as the Authority's average costs of an SDT hearing, which also need to be paid, are £8,000.

This is before the defendant's own costs are considered, while the length of time that the SDT needs to deal with a matter can also be significantly longer. The SDT would still be the only body able to suspend solicitors or strike them from the roll. The SDT is also still the body that would hear appeals against all fines imposed by the Authority after the internal appeal routes had been exhausted.

Carol Westrop, SRA Head of Legal Policy, said: "Our proposals, which deal with the fining regime for proven serious breaches of our rules, have been developed to address the inequalities between the upper limits applying to those working in ABS firms and those working in traditional law firms. There's an obvious discrepancy when a solicitor can find they are subjected to different disciplinary regimes involving significant additional time and costs for exactly the same misconduct - depending purely on the nature of the firm they work in. We also have significantly reduced powers to fine than other approved regulators, such as the Council for Licensed Conveyancers which can fine all those it regulates up to £1m.

"We believe these inequalities are absurd and we have carried out a lot of work to try to address the inconsistencies over the years. Our consultation outlines how increasing our fining powers could work in practice and we welcome comments on the various proposals we've listed."

The consultation opened last Wednesday 20 November and runs for 12 weeks until 7 February. The SRA would have to apply to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to increase its fining regime.

Read the consultation

 
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