The Solicitors Regulation Authority says it is near to publishing details of rules waivers granted to businesses in its ‘safe space’ to encourage innovation. The regulator said in June it planned to take a new approach to how it grants and publishes such waivers.
Part of the SRA's proposal involved fuller details on all granted waivers being published on its website. However months later that pledge has yet to come to fruition.
Several waivers have been granted to unregulated businesses allowing them to employ solicitors. Among businesses to have benefited is the UK arm of US onlne legal services firm Rocket Lawyer. These agreements come ahead of the SRA attempting to change its rules to formally allow this arrangement.
Oliver Price, compliance officer and partner with Wiltshire firm Wansbroughs, told the Gazette that it was ‘surprising’ that the SRA appeared to be ignoring its own guidance and not disclosing details. ‘[The SRA] has no system of publishing waivers and so neither the public nor profession is able to know whether they exist, or if they do, what they provide,’ he said.
The regulator has previously said it will grant exemptions to its rules only ‘where there is clear evidence that they are in the public interest, and that users of legal services are protected’.
But critics say the ad hoc relaxation of SRA rules creates an uneven playing field, granting waivers which cannot be properly scrutinised. The Law Society has said the granting of waivers 'allows a fundamental change to the regulatory framework by the back door'.
The SRA has said the process must be fair and transparent and the regulator will compile an annual innovation report to make sure decisions are made consistently.