The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s decision to withdraw as a signatory to a best practice code for trainees from the end of March has surprised junior lawyers, who were expecting the regulator to withdraw after September.

The voluntary code, which sets recruitment responsibilities for employers and trainees, has as signatories the SRA, the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Service (AGCAS) and Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR).

On Wednesday SRA executive director for policy Crispin Passmore said the regulator was withdrawing from the code ‘on the basis that it is not appropriate for [the SRA] to be involved in recruitment practices and procedures’.

Two days later the SRA announced it was withdrawing from the code from the end of March. The regulator said it was ‘not its regulatory role to be involved in deciding the dates and processes by which individual employers and employees make recruitment choices. The decision to withdraw was taken after careful review and discussion with other signatories to the code’.

However, the JLD said it was ‘surprised’ by this development as it was under the impression it would receive six months’ written notice and was expecting the SRA to withdraw on or after 1 September.

Chair Max Harris said the JLD was only made aware of the SRA’s departure date via an announcement on the regulator’s website.

He said: ‘It is unsettling that [the SRA] would take this decision to withdraw at the end of March without any proper consultation.

‘We hope that this will not impact this year’s recruitment cycle, although it is impossible to know the effect of this [withdrawal] before it comes into effect.’

The code states that the deadline for the receipt of applications should not be before 31 July at the end of the student’s penultimate year of undergraduate study. Offers of employment as a trainee solicitor should not be made before 1 September at the start of the student’s final year.

Harris said the SRA’s backing gave the code greater weight in light of its voluntary nature. ‘If firms no longer abide by the code, then we could see recruitment cycles being brought forward.’

The remaining signatories are currently considering whether the code should continue.

In a statement this afternoon, Passmore said: ‘We had planned to let people formally know of our withdrawal from the voluntary code later in the year in order to give proper time for notification to the sector.

‘As detail is now in the public domain, we have reviewed our original position. We believe that a prolonged period of notification of withdrawal would serve nobody’s interests.

‘In order to remove any uncertainty about the code, or confusion about our role as a signatory, we have simply brought the date of our withdrawal forward.’