Call me a stooge if you like, but I reckon the Law Society is bang on the money with this one.
Yesterday it emerged that Chancery Lane is opposed to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s plan to offer whistleblowers leniency if they shop their partners in crime.
No, my bosses are not standing over me like hostage-takers forcing me to stare down the camera and spout the party line. I’m simply fed up, on solicitors’ behalf, with a regulator that seems to see its role as a Dirty Harry-type figure calling the shots.
Whenever I speak to solicitors, the issue of over-regulation comes over as the biggest gripe. They are brow-beaten, exhausted by form-filling and angry at being diverted from serving clients and running a firm.
Now we have plans for a ‘co-operation policy’. In other words, you tell us if you’ve broken the rules and we’ll cut you some slack, as long you tell us who else was involved.
Where to start with this? First, the idea that law firms are run like some of mafia outfit with a chain of misconduct running through them is barmy. I struggle to believe there are cartels acting en masse to extort clients or launder money.
Misconduct is by and large a solitary existence, and I’m confident that professionals becoming aware of it would be prepared to stand up and report it – no matter what the incentive.
And just how likely is it that the miscreant on the inside is going to want to come forward? Would you trust the SRA to cut you some slack, given that full disclosure is a prerequisite before they will start negotiating?
Certainly the Law Society does not think so, maintaining that trust between the profession and the SRA is so limited that witnesses are unlikely to come forward.
And why should any wrongdoer be offered leniency anyway? If they’ve knowingly done something worthy of punishment, how are they in any way fit to return to the profession? As proposed, the co-operation policy creates a situation where unsuitable people will be free to practise only because they betrayed a fellow villain. Hardly someone I’d want to handle my legal affairs.
The SRA is not Dirty Harry's San Francisco Police Department, or NYPD. Chief executive Anthony Townsend is not Jack Bauer. The organisation is a conduit for upholding the standards we expect of solicitors and dealing with those who fail to do so. Leave the interrogation and deals to Hollywood.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter
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