The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is to look specifically at whether minorities or certain practitioners are treated more harshly when they come to be punished for misconduct.
The tribunal today revealed plans to capture more general information about solicitors appearing before it. This will include practice areas and protected characteristics such as race.
In particular, the tribunal wants to spot any correlation between whether or not dishonesty is alleged and proved and the sanction imposed. This will bring more focus on the consistency of decision-making and identifying any link between protected characteristics and the outcome of tribunal proceedings.
The decisions of the tribunal – and the SRA which refers solicitors to it – have long been under the microscope, with critics suggesting members of ethnic minorities and sole practitioners are more likely to be prosecuted and ultimately removed from the profession. It has also been suggested that solicitors from certain practice areas are more likely to be prosecuted than others who might have committed the same misdemeanour.
The latest tribunal plans are outlined in its three-year equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, which aims to ensure that panels make decisions that are proportionate, fair and free from bias.
The SDT will improve and evaluate diversity data at the same time as the SRA is preparing to publish statistics on the racial profile of those it prosecutes.
The tribunal added: ‘If this evaluation and analysis identifies any differential impact in relation to protected characteristics and the outcomes of SDT proceedings, we will consider what steps we can/should take in relation to the findings, bearing in mind that our role is to determine the allegations of misconduct brought before the tribunal independently, impartially and transparently.’
The tribunal also intends to ensure that all staff and members are aware of the legal framework surrounding diversity and inclusion.
It will develop a more diverse staff team and membership, pledging that by reflecting the profile of the solicitors profession ‘we will have a greater insight into and understanding of the diverse cultural backgrounds, needs and sensitivities of the community to whom we provide a service’.
According to its 2019 annual report, the tribunal membership is 85% white. Almost half (47%) are aged between 56 and 65, with just 9% of members aged 45 or under.