Super-regulators are demanding to see evidence that the SRA has not given up on extending its fining powers.
The Legal Services Board said it will seek ‘ongoing assurance’ that the solicitors’ regulator is pursuing this goal with the Minstry of Justice.
Currently the SRA can fine individuals and firms up to £2,000; cases requiring a tougher sanction must go to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. Even if the SRA had agreed an outcome for a large penalty with a firm, that still needs SDT approval.
In contrast, the SRA can fine alternative business structures up to £250m. The figure was set to cover the potential scope of businesses that may apply to become an ABS. Under this regime, the SRA has recently issued its biggest ever fine, agreeing with a claims firm that sent millions of misleading letters to potential customers.
In an enforcement review, published on Friday, the LSB says work is needed to ‘address inconsistencies’ in internal fining powers.
‘Statutory orders are needed to change the SRA’s internal fining powers and we expect discussions about this to continue between the SRA and the Ministry of Justice,’ said the LSB. The SRA has said in the past it is committed to increasing its fining powers.
The LSB also states that it wants to monitor trends or changes in the timeliness of cases being progress from the SRA to the tribunal. The solicitors’ regulator must provide data twice a year to help this.
The LSB notes that in the past four years, SRA case completion had reduced from an average of 120 days to 80 days, and an initial assessment now takes an average of five days, as opposed to 14 days four years ago.
Overall, the oversight regulator says the SRA and the Bar Standards Board have each met their six expected outcomes for enforcement as laid out in the regulatory framework. The SRA and BSB were both required to have an accessible, transparency, consistent and clear process, taking decisions in a timely fashion and with regular reviews of decisions made.
Neil Buckley Legal Services Board chief executive, said: ‘Effective enforcement functions are vital to consumer and public confidence in regulated services. We are encouraged that the BSB and SRA are committed to ongoing improvement and we will continue to monitor their progress.’
The report also noted that the SDT is likely to report by Easter to its consultation on reducing the burden of proof to a civil standard.