Projected sitting days for the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in 2020 will be vastly down on the figures projected for this year.
The tribunal expects a 26% decrease in court sitting days in 2020, based on information about likely caseload provided by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which prosecutes cases. Current estimates suggest 300 sitting days will be needed in 2020, compared with 406 budgeted for (across three courtrooms) in 2019.
The figures suggest either that the SRA has successfully settled prosecutions before they come for a hearing, or there is an issue with presenting cases before the tribunal in a timely fashion.
According to papers presented at last month’s Legal Services Board meeting, the SDT applied for an operating budget of £3.14m in 2020, a 2.7% decrease on the budget approved for this year.
The tribunal estimates that the 2019 budget will be underspent by almost £265,000 thanks partly to a lower number of sitting days. The SDT told the LSB board that there was a disparity between the SRA’s projected caseload for 2019 and cases received to date. Some hearing days were not required due to agreed outcomes or adjournments and other hearings were shorter than originally estimated.
In the year to 31 August 2019, the SDT had sat on 181 days. Based on current patterns, the predicted number of hearing days for 2019 will be as few as 268.
In its response to the budget report, the LSB vowed to pursue further with the SRA the issue of caseloads not translating into hearings before the tribunal.
The SRA expects to lodge eight to 12 further sexual misconduct cases before the end of 2019 in addition to the seven already lodged. It further estimates that 20 such cases will be sent to the tribunal in 2020. On average these cases are likely to require more hearings days (whether for preliminary matters, the substantive hearing or both) than other types of cases.
The SDT’s key business planning assumptions assume no significant increase in the number of hearing days required arising from implementation of the civil standard of proof and/or introduction of the SRA’s Standards and Regulations, which will both take effect from 25 November.