The Solicitors Regulation Authority has opened a four-month consultation involving asking the profession and clients what breaches of standards should be taken most seriously.
The paper, entitled ‘A question of trust’ asks solicitors and clients to answer what breaches the regulator should clamp down on and which should be treated more leniently.
The SRA said it wanted to explore, for example, whether something happening in a solicitor’s private life is relevant to their role in the law. This could include people convicted of violence or drink-driving – or those who publish views offensive to groups protected by the Equality Act.
Introducing the consultation, SRA board chair Enid Rowlands (pictured) said: ‘As the legal market develops and grows, the public protection offered by the fundamentals, the standards that are at the heart of everything professionals do, have never been so important.
‘We are asking lawyers and the public to consider what matters, what action we should take when things go wrong and what factors we should be taking into account.’
The SRA said its research shows there are widely differing views on such issues, and the regulator said this leads some people to believe decisions are wrong or inconsistent.
A new policy framework is to be established that will address these issues and attempt to pinpoint what are the most serious breaches of standards.
The consultation asks whether ‘lack of knowledge’ should be considered separately from ‘recklessness’ and which is the more serious misdemeanour.
The impact on the client is also under the spotlight, with the SRA questioning whether the punishment meted out to non-compliant solicitors should be the same even if no harm has been caused. The SRA also ponders whether factors such as the vulnerability of clients or their relative wealth should be a contributory factor.
The SRA is appearing at the major party political conferences this autumn to talk with delegates and politicians about what matters to them. The consultation runs until 31 January.
As part of developing the campaign, the SRA surveyed 10,000 solicitors online in July. In total 28 events will be staged over the next four months for people to give their views.