The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal is facing a big jump in its workload as new figures lay bare the increasing complexity and cost of prosecutions.
The annual report of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal revealed last week that costs awarded to the regulator following a hearing rose 28% to a record £3.45m in 2018. In the foreword to the report, solicitor tribunal member Richard Hegarty admitted he and his colleagues ‘often take a sharp intake of breath’ when they see the final costs schedule.
In 2020, the number of cases is expected to increase sharply, after the SDT moves to a new civil standard of proof from the end of this year. The tribunal acknowledged in its application to make this change that more cases could be referred under the lesser standard.
Extra training will be provided for tribunal members and clerks this autumn in advance of the revised approach, the report states.
Meanwhile, tribunal staff have received extra training to deal with vulnerable witnesses ahead of an expected increase in the number of sexual misconduct cases. Partly due to retirements and resignations among members, extra candidates selected as reserves as part of the 2015 recruitment process have been fast-tracked and will start hearing cases, following their induction and training, towards the end of this year or in early 2020.
There are concerns about the tribunal’s ability to handle – and impose sanctions in – cases where prosecutions focus on solicitors’ behaviour in their private life and away from the workplace.
Andrew Katzen, regulatory and criminal defence partner at London firm Hickman & Rose, queried whether the SDT will be set up to judge allegations that might be more typically considered by the criminal courts.
Figures for 2018 show the tribunal struck off 80 solicitors brought before it, either following a contested hearing or an agreed outcome between the respondent and the SRA.
Katzen said: ‘Compared to other regulated professions, it seems that solicitors are more frequently struck off and relatively rarely considered sufficiently rehabilitated to be readmitted.’