The niche regulator for conveyancers could introduce a 'sanctions ladder' to ensure consistency when its members face disciplinary action under proposals published this week.
The Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) licenses more than 1,300 individuals and 240 entities who cater for 11% of the conveyancing market and 20% of re-mortgaging activity. More than 70 licensed conveyancers can also provide probate services.
The regulator refers cases to an independent panel, set up by the regulator in 2011, when it suspects an individual or entity has breached the CLC's code of conduct. The panel determines the sanction where it is satisfied, using the civil standard, that rules have been breached. The panel is currently guided by the CLC's regulation and enforcement policy.
Today's consultation paper on developing indicative sanctions guidance outlines two options: a sanctions ladder and a tariff system.
The panel, under the ladder approach, would consider the least severe sanction to begin with. It would produce a reasoned decision to explain and justify the chosen sanction and why it has rejected the others.
The sanctions, in ascending order, are: no further action, reprimand, fine, conditions on licence, suspension, disqualification, licence revocation.
The CLC's council and the panel prefer the ladder, an approach taken by regulators such as the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, the paper states. Although it could lead to lengthier decisions, advantages include greater consistency, fairness and transparency.
The tariff system is akin to sentencing guidelines used in criminal courts where respondents with similar characteristics receive similar sanctions, subject to the panel having 'ultimate discretion'. Cases with similar facts would have the same starting point. However, the paper states the system could fetter the panel's discretion and is not widely used in the professional regulatory community.
The regulator hopes to implement the guidance in January 2018 subject to the Legal Services Board's approval.
Sheila Kumar, CLC chief executive, said: 'Our proactive approach to helping firms deal with issues before they threaten the client or public interest means that comparatively few cases escalate to a degree of seriousness that means they reach the panel for imposition of sanctions.'
'Our proposed approach enhances transparency to support consumer confidence and to inform our regulated community and stakeholders better about the rigour of our regulatory approach.'
The consultation closes on 29 September.