The Law Society has warned that the SRA should play no part in the decision-making of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal amid efforts to bring greater certainty to the disciplinary process.
Responding to the SRA’s Question of Trust consultation, Chancery Lane said the SDT’s independence was ‘critical’ to the integrity of regulation and cautioned the SRA against seeking to influence its decisions.
The regulator is seeking to find a way of categorising misconduct and create a more predictable system.
‘As soon as a complaint has passed the threshold to be considered by the SDT, the SRA play no further role and should certainly not attempt to influence the outcome in terms of sanction, or be seen to do so,’ said the Law Society.
The Society also raised ‘grave doubts’ about the plan for a reference framework table to categorise the seriousness of different offences, adding that levels of seriousness within the table were in any case set too low.
A spokesman said: ‘The Law Society agrees on the importance of a regulatory framework which enables the profession to be clear about the consequences of misconduct and the public to understand what will happen should they complain about it.
‘However, our response expresses concern about several aspects of the consultation, and in particular cautions against the SRA attempting to categorise all misconduct at the expense of consideration of individual circumstances.’
The Society said the SRA’s assumption that a solicitor acting illegally is also failing to uphold the rule of law showed a ‘fundamental failure’ to understand what the term means.
While criminal convictions, as well as cautions, should be treated as matters of concern, especially where dishonesty was involved, the response added that allowing for discretion was a sign of a ‘mature regulator and profession’.
The Society suggested the SRA was not treating certain categories of rule breach with enough seriousness, including dishonest or misleading advertising; misleading clients for personal benefit; breach of undertaking; bullying junior staff, bringing cases without legal merit; and failing to maintain indemnity insurance.
Nevertheless, the plan for a reference table should be a non-starter, argued the response, as every case considered by the SRA is fact-sensitive.
‘We would discourage the SRA from continuing with this exercise, which risks pigeon-holing categories of misconduct in a manner which is virtually certain to be unacceptably shallow allowing for the infinite variety of cases.’
The SRA consultation has employed interactive online voting and a nationwide tour of practitioners to establish a framework for regulatory decisions. The process closes on Sunday, with any action in response likely to be announced in the summer.