The Solicitors Regulation Authority will commission a new study into the treatment of black and Asian lawyers after long-awaited figures showed a disparity in how groups are treated in the disciplinary process.
The SRA confirmed today that the group made up 26% of individuals reported to the regulator in 2018/19; 32% of those whose cases are taken forward for investigation; and 35% of those whose case concluded at the tribunal. This is despite black and Asian people making up 18% of the practising population.
The treatment of people brought through disciplinary processes is also disproportionate based on race: 31% of those struck off were from an ethnic minority, with 34% of those fined coming from this group. Although the base numbers are smaller, minorities were disproportionately less likely to reach an agreed outcome with the SRA: black and Asian solicitors accounted for just 17% of those making such a compromise, but made up 40% of those whose case went to a full hearing.
This is the first time since 2014 that the SRA has reported diversity characteristics for those involved in the enforcement processes. That was also the year in which a review by Professor Gus John found black and Asian solicitors were disproportionately treated – the numbers are almost identical in 2018/29 compared to six years ago – and recommended that diversity figures be published annually.
The SRA says it will undertake research next year to understand the structural factors that cause overrepresentation in the disciplinary process and identify what can be done. Diversity monitoring information will also be published more regularly in future.
Chair Anna Bradley said: ‘We must look at what is happening here. We have made significant changes to our enforcement processes and reformed our regulation over the last few years but the picture remains the same and it is unclear why that is the case.
‘Since 2007 we have held three independent reviews into our processes to make sure they are fair and free from bias, and none found any evidence of issues with our processes. Notwithstanding this, we will look again at our decision-making.’
Previous studies have suggested potential factors that may be influencing the overrepresentation of minorities, including where black and Asian solicitors work and the types of practice they undertake. But there have also been accusations that the SRA has unfairly targeted certain groups who may be easier to prosecute.
There also appeared to be a disparity in the proportion of men in the system: 67% of concerns raised with the SRA related to men, whereas 49% of the overall solicitor population is male. This figure rose to 73% in cases that the SRA decided to investigate.