SRA dubbed ‘institutionally racist’ by Society of Black Lawyers chair
The Solicitors Regulation Authority is to face accusations of being ‘institutionally racist’ and of abusing its powers to the detriment of solicitors from ethnic minorities.
In a hard-hitting report to the Legal Services Board, seen by the Gazette, the Society of Black Lawyers accuses the SRA of intervening disproportionately in small black and Asian minority ethnic (BAME) firms while allowing City firms to breach practice rules with impunity.
The SRA said it was disappointed by ‘misleading and inaccurate statements’.
The report, Breaking the Silence: who is regulating the regulator?, was compiled in response to the Legal Services Board’s call for views on proposed equality objectives.
Based on minority ethnic solicitors’ dealings with the SRA over the past 18 months, it accuses the regulator of having ‘far worse rates of disparity of treatment’ than those found in police stop-and-search statistics.
Peter Herbert (pictured), the SBL chair and a fee-paid employment and immigration judge, told the Gazette that ‘the SRA has a track record of intervening on spurious grounds and then gagging witnesses or intimidating defence lawyers’.
Herbert said that Lord Ouseley’s 2008 report on alleged SRA discrimination was flawed: ‘I think Ouseley failed to conduct a comparative analysis of interventions against minority and white solicitors.
‘He could only analyse what he was given based on the assumption that the SRA investigators were acting in good faith. We now have strong grounds to believe this was a false premise.’
Nwabueze Nwokolo, Law Society council member for black and minority ethnic concerns, said that she agreed with the SBL’s findings. ‘There is no transparency or equality of arms in the way the SRA spends inordinate sums of money pursuing small firms,’ she added.
SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said the regulator has been addressing disproportionality since the Ouseley review and had cooperated with the SBL. ‘We responded to their requests for further information and asked them… in December to share any concerns emerging from the survey. To date they have never shared this information or the report with us.’
He said he was extremely disappointed that the SBL ‘are unwilling to discuss their concerns with us, but feel the need to air them through the media using misleading and inaccurate statements’.