The Solicitors Regulation Authority has announced plans to set up an internal independent team to assess the quality of its disciplinary policies and decisions.
The new entity, which will operate at ‘arms-length from our operational work’ will provide quality assurance over the regulator’s enforcement work. The plan is among the changes outlined in the businesses plan for 2021/22 published yesterday, although no further details were released about the team’s remit.
The SRA's enforcement policy has come under heavy criticism in recent years. Concerns include the costs incurred; the disproportionate number of individuals from an ethnic minority subject to action, and the decision to pursue cases against junior lawyers who have reported suffering from mental illness.
According to the business plan, diversity and inclusion will continue to be ‘high priority’ in the next year. The SRA will publish analysis of the equality impacts of enforcement work and the use of regulatory powers to tackle discrimination. The regulator says it will continue to assess what is behind what it calls the ‘over representation’ of people from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities within the enforcement processes.
The business plan, subject to a consultation open until 25 June, forms part of the ongoing three-year strategy which the SRA says aims to set and maintain high standards, support the adoption of technology and innovation in the profession and anticipate and respond to change.
In the coming year the SRA will oversee the solicitors qualifying examination (SQE), continue work to take forward the recommendations of the Competition and Market Authority to increase transparency, and review continuing competency requirements.
On the transparency issue, the regulator says it will do further work on quality indicators for consumers to know more about their legal provider, and enhance the existing solicitors register.
The SRA also wants to build new partnerships in lawtech and will create integrated networks of business schools and innovation labs alongside government departments.
New anti-money laundering webinars will be broadcast, and updated guidance published on how to prevent money laundering.
The SRA's proportion of the practising certificate fee will be capped at £151 – a figure consistent with recent years. The regulator also proposes to cut individuals' contributions to the compensation fund from £50 to £40.
The Law Society will consult on its proposed funding from the PC fee later this month.