With the SRA desperately fire-fighting the Axiom Ince blaze, you could be forgiven for forgetting about its campaign for unlimited fining powers.

The regulator spent much of the summer lobbying for this change in its sanctioning options, but has been distracted since then by trying to explain why it definitely wasn’t asleep at the wheel as Axiom Ince fell apart.

But the bid for unlimited fines has not gone away, even if the SRA doesn’t appear to have used the hiatus to come up with a cogent argument why it should have carte blanche.

The battle lines for this campaign were drawn in the justice committee evidence session as the SRA was asked why it should extend its powers.

Chief executive Paul Philip said the key argument was that the regulatory framework should provide for a ‘sufficient and material deterrent’ to stop serious wrongdoing. The existing and relatively new power to fine up to £25,000 appeared to be working, he conceded, but was still insignificant in relation to the turnover of big firms.

Crucially, the SRA believes, the consequences of misconduct have to be ‘relatively proximate to the event’, despite it never really being clear why this is so necessary.

The SRA’s case is spurious, unsubstantiated, and self-serving.

For a start – and this is fairly obvious – the power to issue unlimited fines already exists in the form of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. That organisation has had its fair share of administrative issues in the past year but it’s decision-making has rarely been questioned.

The SDT already adapts its financial penalties to the size of the firm being sanctioned and crucially provides an independent ruling on whether the SRA has presented a strong enough case.

The SRA seeks to portray the tribunal process as taking too long, ignoring the fact that it is itself responsible for many hold-ups. Countless cases have taken years for the SRA to investigate and finally present its submissions to the tribunal, with respondent solicitors despairing at the purgatory of having allegations hanging over them.

SRA case handlers work on up to 40 cases at a time and as of July this year, 162 ongoing cases were at least two years old. In August, the tribunal ordered the SRA to repay £75,000 after an ‘inordinate delay’ in prosecuting a case which caused the solicitor on the end of its considerable anxiety and stress. Philip himself admitted at the SRA’s annual compliance conference that the investigation process took too long. It doesn’t scream ‘give them more power not less’ does it?

There is ample evidence that the SRA is incapable of efficiently running cases, yet no evidence that solicitors would be put off misconduct by a different body issuing a massive fine. Even if the deterrent argument has legs, the SRA appears confused: chair Anna Bradley described going through the SDT as ‘very difficult, long, arduous and upsetting process’. Sounds like a pretty good deterrent already, does it not?

The SRA is hamstrung by its inability to be frank about its motives. It seems incapable of admitting it wants this power because it wants to flex its muscle over the profession rather than leave anything to chance by going through an independent arbiter. How could a bid for greater powers be described as anything other than a power grab?