Costs incurred by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in prosecuting solicitors suspected of wrongdoing leapt by almost 44% last year.
Figures revealed today in the annual report of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal showed costs of more than £3m were awarded to the SRA in calendar 2016.
That was a significant increase on the £1.7m awarded to the SRA in 2015. Around £266,000 was ordered not to be enforced without leave of the tribunal - indicating the solicitor in question had demonstrated they were unable to pay.
The tribunal’s report notes: ‘A number of substantial cases were heard during the period which, to some extent, explains the significant increase in this figure. Cases lasted longer and were more complex in terms of the investigations carried out by the SRA.’
One recent case, that of Iraq lawyer Phil Shiner, is one of the longest and most expensive ever brought by the SRA. Some of those costs were incurred last year.
The increasing seriousness of charges brought before the SDT in 2016 was reflected in a sharp increase in the number of solicitors who were struck off.
Some 76 solicitors were struck off the roll of solicitors or the register of foreign lawyers last year, up from 56 in 2015 and 48 in 2014.
The number of solicitors subject to fixed suspensions and fines has also increased in the last three years.
The nature of the cases has meant the workload and costs of the tribunal have increased.
The tribunal sat on 260 days last year, a 41% increase on 2015.
Administrative costs for running the tribunal, funded by a levy on the practising certificate fee, reached almost £3m for the year in 2016. This was the highest figure on record and was more than £1m more than recorded in 2012. The annual cost of administering the SDT per practising solicitor was £20.97 in 2016, a small increase on the previous year but less than in 2014.
In his president’s report, Edward Nally said the trend towards hard fought and high profile hearings ‘continues apace’ with representation by Queen’s Counsel on both sides now ‘commonplace’.