Cards on the table - we’ve all told the odd porkie on an application form. You might add an inch or two to your height on a dating website or fake an interest in the theatre for a job application.
I am not immune, dear readers, to the odd fib. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to confess to Pizza Hut that I did not pass my Duke of Edinburgh bronze award. (It rained too hard on the hike part and we ended up staying in a hotel instead.)
But there are some cover-ups you just cannot get away with.
Let’s say, for example, you’re applying to be your law firm’s hall monitor, declaring you’ll keep an eye on the finances and behaviour of your colleagues.
It would probably be misguided to ignore your past bankruptcy or criminal conviction on the application form. Yet, according to the SRA, hundreds of lawyers failed their automatic suitability check for compliance officer roles because of ‘multiple issues’, including criminal convictions and past bankruptcy.
The irony is that some of these failings would not have prevented individuals from taking up the position – but by not declaring them to the SRA, warning klaxons are now sounding.
Now, I don’t particularly see the point of these compliance officers. They add another layer of regulation and administration to already over-worked firms and seem to me to encourage a ‘pass the buck’ culture. It should be the responsibility of every member of the firm to ensure compliance, but the temptation will be to leave that job to the COLP and COFA officers and turn a blind eye. It’s someone else’s problem now.
But in spite of the reservations, this was still a serious business that seems to be have been treated with careless regard by too many. Did firms really not think to press their nominees on their past? Did they really think the SRA would not uncover these undeclared mistakes?
Such willful negligence on the part of too many will damage the profession’s reputation. A worrying proportion of the public already see solicitors as crooks – now they will claim to have evidence to back it up.
There will be some mitigating factors behind some undeclared past convictions or financial problems. Nominees may have assumed they were irrelevant, they may have been embarrassed or they may have simply forgotten an incident in the distant past.
But the SRA will be fully justified in going back to these firms and checking the suitability of the rest of the staff. It will be intrusive and time consuming, but it is necessary.
After all, if these were the firms’ best candidates, just what skeletons do the rest of the staff have locked away?