Half of solicitors facing prosecution at the tribunal are waiting more than six months for their case to be determined, new figures have revealed.
Set the target of determining 70% of cases within six months of the issue of proceedings, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has met that goal in just one quarter since the start of 2015.
In the last quarter of 2015, the SDT determined just 31% of cases within six months, a proportion which rose to 51% by the second quarter of 2016.
In a report prepared for last month’s Legal Services Board meeting, it is revealed that since February the SDT has been monitoring the reasons for cases being delayed.
The full list of reasons includes adjournments for personal service of proceedings by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, or the whereabouts of the charged person not being correctly identified by the SRA.
Case management hearings have also allocated the substantive hearings outside the target period, while solicitor respondents have struggled with limited access to legal advice to help address their case.
Late instruction of expert witnesses, third-party interventions, unavailability of counsel, and applications for a private hearing have also contributed to delays.
A spokesperson for the SDT said: ‘The tribunal manages its cases actively, identifies obstacles to progress, and does what it reasonably can to ensure that delays within its control are kept to a minimum.
‘The level of individual case management at the SDT exceeds that found at other courts and tribunals by some margin. However the needs of the parties must always be taken into account.’
The SDT is now proposing to amend its target so that 60% of cases should be determined within six months.
On other measures, the tribunal performs well: the average cost per court has reduced from £12,312 in the second quarter of 2015 to £9,179 in the same period this year.
The tribunal issued proceedings within 10 calendar days of receipt of a complete application in every single case in the first half of this year.
At the other end of proceedings, judgments are produced within seven weeks of the final determination in 98% of cases – far exceeding the 80% target.
The SDT budget for 2017 will be £2.9m, a decrease of around £3,000 on the approved 2016 budget.