A leading figure with the SRA has cautioned firms not to report every concern they have about someone’s conduct unless they genuinely believe it is a breach of the rules.
Speaking at the SRA’s compliance conference on Wednesday, general counsel Juliet Oliver said reporting obligations go ‘beyond gossip or suspicion’ and she urged firms not to bombard the regulator with every concern.
The code of conduct places obligations on solicitors or firms to report any matters they reasonably believe are capable of amounting to a ‘serious breach’ of standards or requirements.
Asked whether this could lead to unnecessary reports, Oliver said: ‘We don’t want to encourage defensive reporting. That is not in anyone’s interests – it’s not in your interests to feel like you have to act as a postbox and you are just passing matters through to us without any thought.
‘[And] it is not in our interests for us to receive volumes of reports which would or could never lead to our taking regulatory action. We do want you to exercise your judgement to decide whether the issues engage with our rules.’
Oliver said she understood there was an issue with potential whistleblowers passing on sensitive information about their firms or colleagues. If people were worried about being accused themselves of failing to report matters promptly, Oliver said the SRA would ‘look at the context and try to understand people’s behaviours and motivations’.
She added: ‘Part of that is the environment they are working in and the pressure they are under… we are not interested in trying to penalise people who are genuinely at risk or in crises if they feel they are in a difficult position.’
Oliver said there had been examples of firms engaged in litigation against each other making ‘oppressive’ threats to report each other as part of their attempts to win the case.
‘That is something in serious cases we have seen reported and taken forward [as] investigations,’ she added.