Disciplinary offences involving sexual misconduct, discrimination or harassment will be punished with solely financial penalties only in exceptional circumstances, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has said in a statement on how it will handle its new fining powers. The statement also proposes that fines levied by the SRA in the most serious cases be imposed by a panel of adjudicators rather than a single individual.
New powers for the SRA to levy fines of up to £25,000 without referral to the tribunal came in to force last month following the lord chancellor’s approval in June.
In a consultation on financial penalties which opened today, the regulator acknowledges that the new powers 'bring with them the need for greater accountability'. Proposed steps to improve the 'openness and robustness' of procedures include:
- Explicit rules to clarify that fines are imposed by functionally independent adjudicators. Fines in the most serious band would be imposed by a panel - which would include a lay adjudicator - rather than a single legal adjudicator.
- Publishing guidance on decision-making processes and procedures, 'to better demonstrate the safeguards in place to ensure a fair and transparent process'.
- Introducing fixed fines for lower-level misconduct.
- Piloting the use of victim impact statements for cases involving sexual misconduct, discrimination or any form of harassment.
- Amended guidance to highlight that for cases involving sexual misconduct, discrimination or harassment, financial penalties will be considered only in 'exceptional circumstances'.
Anna Bradley, chair of the SRA board, said the new fining powers 'will help to resolve issues more quickly, saving time and cost for everyone and, importantly, reducing the inevitable stress for those in our enforcement processes'. However she said the regulator recognises that 'with stronger powers comes a need for even greater transparency and accountability'.
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