The Law Society has expressed alarm at figures revealing the disproportionate numbers of black and Asian lawyers being hauled through the disciplinary process.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority this week said that 35% of individuals whose case concluded at the tribunal were black or Asian, despite this group making up just 18% of the practising population. Black and Asian solicitors were also far more likely to be put through a full hearing rather than reach an agreed outcome with the SRA about what punishment they should face.
The disparity has prompted the regulator to commission a study looking at why such a large proportion of lawyers facing prosecution come from ethnic minorities.
David Greene, Law Society president, said it was ‘extremely concerning’ that this group continues to feature disproportionately in the numbers of complaints received about solicitors, investigations taken up by the SRA and sanctions issued by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
‘We welcome the SRA commissioning independent research into the matter,’ said Greene. ‘This research must be undertaken as a priority so that the SRA can better understand the issues which may be causing unfairness and focus on resolving them as soon as possible. The legal sector stands for access to justice, equality for all and the rule of law. We must ensure that within our profession, there is equality at all stages and solicitors’ chances of being complained about or investigated are not influenced by race or ethnicity.’
The Legal Services Board meanwhile welcomed the openness and leadership shown by the SRA in publishing diversity data on its enforcement activity, and said this level of transparency should be forthcoming from all legal services regulators.
In response to the SRA’s findings, chief executive Matthew Hill said: ‘The report identifies a number of areas that merit further exploration, including the over-representation of men, lawyers from a BAME background, and those at later stages of their careers at various stages of the disciplinary process.
‘It is very important not to make assumptions about the causes of these patterns, which mirror those seen in some other sectors such as healthcare. It is equally important to find effective means of mitigating them, for example, by investing in better engagement with, and support for, key groups.’
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