New government contracts for criminal legal aid could contain stronger sanctions for solicitors who ‘tout’ for work, the Gazette has learned.
Solicitors Regulation Authority rules state that solicitors are not allowed to make unsolicited approaches in person or by phone to members of the public to publicise the firm, in-house practice or another business.
Former Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association vice-chair Robin Murray (pictured) said touts were a danger to the public ‘because their lack of ethical and moral dealing with the public and the profession while engaging in this grubby activity almost certainly hides a multitude of sins’.
London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association president Greg Foxsmith said members had reported solicitors standing by court lists as defendants check their names and then approaching them. Some have followed potential clients into the court lift to sign them up.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said the SRA should take ‘robust’ action where there is evidence of touting.
He said: ‘We are working with the Legal Aid Agency to ensure that the next criminal legal aid contract includes stronger anti-touting measures that will enable them to impose appropriate sanctions on anyone who breaches the rules.’
A spokesperson for the agency said it was ‘disappointing’ that some solicitors ‘appear to be engaging in this type of behaviour’.
‘Legal aid contract holders who act in this way risk breaching their professional obligations, jeopardising their legal aid contract.
‘We are clear that any indication of wrongdoing could be referred to the SRA for investigation. We will work with representative bodies to assess what additional measures could be taken to address these behaviours.’
The SRA’s executive director of operations and quality, Robert Loughlin, said the nature of the activity meant ‘it can be very difficult to prove to the criminal standard used by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. That remains a frustration for us as much as it does for those firms that believe clients have been diverted from them’.