Cases coming before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal appear to be getting more complex to decide, with the latest figures showing hearings lasted longer in 2019 than in previous years.
The tribunal’s annual report, published yesterday, shows that 34 cases in 2019 involved a substantive hearing which took more than two days, compared with 25 in 2018 and 17 the year before.
Meanwhile, just eight cases in 2019 were wrapped up in less than a day, compared with 19 the previous year. The number of cases taking one day dropped from 53 to 31.
In 2019, the tribunal sat for 308 days and heard 144 cases, compared to 2018 when it sat for 266 days to hear 168 cases.
The actual number of sitting days was lower than the 406 that had been estimated for the year - in part because only about a third of the predicted sexual misconduct cases (for which a total of 81 days had been estimated) were referred or dealt with in 2019.
The seven cases categorised as involving ‘sexual misconduct’ which the tribunal dealt with included some relating to behaviour in a work context either at or outside of the workplace. Of the cases received, five had been concluded at the time of publication and two are outstanding. An appeal relating to a sexual misconduct case received in 2018 is also still outstanding.
The £3.2m budget for 2019 was 10.6% up on the previous year, based on the expected number of sitting days. The actual cost per regulated person increased in 2019 by 2.4%.
The number of solicitors struck off by the tribunal in 2019 fell by 15% to 68. Eleven suspensions and 50 fines were also issued last year.
The annual report revealed that the tribunal refused a quarter of the 48 agreed outcomes which had been reached between the SRA and respondent in 2019. Applications for agreed outcomes should be made no later than 28 days before the substantive hearing, but in some cases this deadline is not met – forcing the tribunal to either accept the late application or relist the case. To address this concern, the tribunal will take a ‘more robust’ approach in future to dealing with late agreed outcome applications.