Whistleblowers in the legal profession do not trust the Solicitors Regulation Authority enough to agree to report misconduct, the Law Society said today.
The Society said there was no pressing need for a cooperation policy to encourage people to report colleagues for wrongdoing.
In its response to the SRA’s consultation on a new ‘cooperation’ policy, the Law Society says the idea would be undermined by tensions between the profession and the regulator.
‘In order for the policy to work as intended, witnesses will need to trust the SRA (given the SRA will give no guarantees until there has been full disclosure). Trust between the SRA and the profession is limited and, while we recognise the SRA has been attempting to improve this, we do not believe that matters have improved to the extent where this policy will act as a positive incentive for potential witnesses.’
The Law Society response also questioned why a new policy was needed before the new regime of compliance officers had a chance to bed in.
Unlike other regulators that have created a leniency scheme, such as the Office of Fair Trading, misconduct was not as difficult to detect in the legal profession, the Society says. It says the new policy offers few extra incentives for witnesses to come forward than the current enforcement policy. In any case, the organisation argued, the principles of acting with integrity should act as sufficient incentive for solicitors to report regulatory breaches.
There would also be ‘serious questions' about the reliability of evidence from witnesses who admit their own part in dishonest actions. The consultation closed last month and the SRA is currently going through responses before finalising its position.
When it was launched in October, the SRA said it would enter co-operation agreements with possible witnesses who might also be in regulatory difficulties.
They would provide full disclosure and, if necessary, give live evidence in a court or tribunal. In return, their own conduct would be dealt with as part of the agreement.