The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is to update its guidance for people making allegations of harassment, following a steady increase in reports.
A letter from SRA chief executive Paul Philip to the House of Commons women and equalities committee has revealed that the regulator now has 50 ongoing cases – up from 23 in March this year.
‘We have seen a steady increase in reports about sexual harassment and the improper use of NDAs since these issues began to receive more attention in the legal sector and since we published our warning notice [in March],’ Philip wrote.
The updated guidance will cover the use of unfair contract terms, using clear language in settlement agreements and the requirement to balance duties in litigation. This, Philip said, will be in the form of a further warning notice and an update of the SRA’s ‘Walking the Line’ report. Both will be published this autumn.
The committee has published correspondence from various regulators, including in legal services, in response to its request to provide details of the steps they were taking to investigate such harassment. It comes after the same committee accused regulators of dodging their responsibilities to stop workplace harassment.
Philip added: ‘We have a dedicated in-house team which handles complaints of sexual harassment. Members of the team have undertaken specialist training in working with vulnerable witnesses and we will be rolling the training out to all staff involved in our investigation and disciplinary work.’
Maria Miller MP, chair of the committee, said: ‘We know that employers are falling down in their responsibilities to create safe working environments. It’s vital, therefore, that those who oversee employers and professions step up to the mark in setting expectations and taking action where sexual harassment takes place.’
Miller said that the committee was particularly disappointed to see few of the bodies demonstrated real understanding of their responsibilities to have due regard to the need to eliminate sexual harassment. She added that progress is being made in some sectors, including the legal profession.
Last week international firm Baker McKenzie said a review it had commissioned into a historic allegation of sexual assault had identified a ‘number of shortcomings’ in the way it handled the complaint and that it ‘very much regrets’ the situation that arose.