Increasing numbers of clients have complained about the Solicitors Regulation Authority amidst a lingering feeling among consumers that it is biased towards solicitors, an independent body has reported.
The Independent Complaint Resolution Service (ICRS) revealed that consumers made 107 complaints about the SRA’s handling of their case in the first nine months of 2015, compared with 68 in the whole of 2014.
Most were from clients dissatisfied with the SRA’s response to a complaint about a solicitor, although in most cases the ICRS was unable to help because the complaint concerned a regulatory decision rather than how matters were handled.
The ICRS, which has since been replaced as complaints reviewer by the Ombudsman Services Limited, said in general the SRA had responded appropriately and provided acceptable reasons for decisions. However there remains a ‘real risk’ that members of the public will see the SRA as preferring the word of solicitors.
The service said the SRA should share detailed assessments of complaints by publishing examples of serious misconduct, or by putting in place arrangements for decision reviews.
ICRS partner Jodi Berg reported a marked increase in the number of referrals received.
‘Most of these came from members of the public who had complained about actions by solicitors which they felt warranted disciplinary action by the SRA,’ she said. ‘When the SRA did not agree with this, people were disappointed and often angered that solicitors had ‘got away with it’ and felt that the SRA was ‘on the side of solicitors’.
The complaint service recommended the SRA review its procedure for dealing with compensation fund claims to avoid any perception of bias, look again at information provided on its website about the closure of firms and review the information provided to indemnity insurers.
Berg noted that since the SRA has started to make clear what the ICRS can and cannot do, the number of referrals has slowed down.
Solicitors made just 11 complaints in 2015 about the SRA’s disciplinary process, with seven cases taken on.
Berg said the figures reflected a belief that solicitors are treated proportionately after a minor infringement of the rules.
‘The SRA’s disciplinary response can be somewhat rigid, due to current procedure, and may not have the flexibility to deal effectively with such issues in a less resource-intensive manner,’ she added.
Of the total complaints made in 2015, 12 were upheld and four were partially upheld.
The SRA’s Rachel Pillinger said: ‘We welcome the ICRS’s final report and we thank the ICRS for its independent consideration of matters, critical eye, helpful advice and recommendations during its term.
‘It has been instrumental in helping us improve not only the way we deal with complaints about our service but in identifying the root causes of complaints. We look forward to continuing this constructive dialogue with our new independent reviewer, the Ombudsman Services Limited, which started work in October 2015.’