The SRA has been told to be more transparent and demonstrate value for money to the profession, in the light of another admonishing costs assessment from the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
In a judgment published last week, the tribunal reduced the costs awarded against struck-off solicitor Peter Collins Maku-Kemi from the £42,600 claimed by the SRA to £15,000, saying the commercial fee arrangement between the SRA and its legal adviser Capsticks was ‘totally disproportionate to what was a very straightforward case’. The firm billed for more than 280 hours split between two partners, six lawyers and six paralegals or trainees. Their output was ‘disproportionate, unreasonable and inevitably resulted in duplication of work’. The tribunal added its dissatisfaction that external counsel were instructed ‘at great expense’ which should not be borne by Maku-Kemi.
The criticism comes at a time when the Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator, has vowed to take a closer look at the costs incurred by regulatory and representative bodies which are paid by members of the profession.
In response to the Mabu-Kemi ruling, an LSB spokesperson said: ’The SRA has to account to all those who pay a practising certificate fee (PCF) for how it uses its resources and clearly articular the purpose, value and costs of regulation.
'As the oversight regulator, the Legal Services Board approves the level of the PCF, and we are making changes to the approval process to improve transparency and accountability, and these will come into effect shortly. It is crucial that fee payers can see where their money goes. We are also working on improved approaches to oversight of disciplinary enforcements processes to increase the focus on quality assurance.'
Since 2017, Capsticks has been the SRA’s sole provider for disciplinary and litigation work. The regulator took the decision to work with one firm to ‘ensure consistency’ across all legal work, with Capsticks chosen over a dozen competitors.
The initial contract was for three years and the Gazette understands this was renewed in October 2019 – albeit with neither the SRA nor Capsticks announcing the extended agreement at the time. The firm will remain the sole provider until October 2022 under the current terms.
There have been several cases in recent months where the regulator has been criticised over the level of costs incurred.
In September, the SDT awarded just £8,000 costs for the prosecution of Julian Critchlow, after the SRA applied for £22,500. Defence costs were ‘nowhere near’ those of Capsticks and the schedule of costs filed was of ‘very little use’, the tribunal chair said.
In November, the High Court said the £344,000 claimed following the prosecution of Ryan Beckwith was ‘alarming’ and without basis.
Both the SRA and Capsticks declined to comment on the latest tribunal judgment.