A fresh attempt to assess the advocacy standards of solicitors is one of the stand-out features of the business plan for the coming year published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority today. 

The regulator said that standards of representation within the criminal and civil justice system continue to be a key issue, brought into sharper focus following the pandemic.

The SRA has grappled in recent years with how to monitor advocacy standards and has announced a number of  initiatives for ensuring that assessment of the higher rights of audience is ‘consistent and robust’. They include:

  • Evaluating a sample of training records of solicitors working in youth courts
  • Carrying out a random sample of solicitors’ standards in magistrates and higher courts
  • Developing resources to help members of the public understand what good advocacy looks like
  • Establishing competences to outline standard of advocacy expected from solicitors.

The SRA said: ‘We will continue to engage with stakeholders and the public to identify risks and issues with criminal and civil advocacy and practice.’

Linked to this issue, the regulator is also considering ways to ’improve competence’ among qualified solicitors and how to identify poor practice and areas of increased risk to clients. While extra support for solicitors is part of the business plan, the SRA is considering whether it needs more regulatory tools to respond to poor practice, with a longer-term strategic review possibly getting underway in the next year.

On anti-money laundering, the SRA pledges to review its rolling programme of visits to law firms and will expand this further during 2022. The next year will also feature the publication of a thematic review of the role of money laundering officers in law firms.

In his introduction to the business plan, chief executive Paul Philip said the SRA will be mindful of responding to risks differently across different segments of the market. This may include different types of law, different types of legal practice, different types and size of provider and different end users of legal services.

The SRA will also continue to develop its presence in Wales, and will continue to identify and deliver which projects need to be adapted to meet its commitment to the Welsh language.