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Bear in mind that the SDT is now one of very few remaining professional disciplinary bodies that applies the criminal standard of proof in the disciplinary proceedings it conducts. The primary concern needs to be 'what is in the public interest?' rather than shielding professionals against the adverse consequences of a disciplinary finding against them. Shipman triggered a sea-change in relation to medical discipline and the regimes applying to financial matters (e.g. accountants, IFAs, etc) also have balance of probability test. Even the Bar (with whom solicitors can reasonably claim to be compared) has consulted on changing the burden of proof in disciplinary proceedings against barristers (with the consultation paper making it pretty clear which way the wind is blowing).

The point is that, as with other professions, it is a hall-mark of the services provided by solicitors that clients are supposed to be able to trust the high standards trumpeted by the profession and to be fully protected against unprofessional service (as well as, through insurance, negligent service). Solicitors are in a privileged position in relation to the trust that clients place in them. It therefore behoves them to accept that, when their professionalism is called into question, the issues will be assessed on a balance of probabilities. A requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt comes across to the public (whose interests are the primary consideration) as a shield behind which errant professionals can hide, to be deployed at the very point where the adversely affected client needs most to be assured that their interests are being protected.

Those who do not engage in unprofessional conduct should have nothing to fear from a balance of probabilities test. And as a purely practical matter, where the client has suffered loss because of a claimed disciplinary infringement, any legal proceedings to recover compensation will be conducted on the basis of a balance of probabilities. If in such cases the disciplinary side of the issue requires proof beyond reasonable doubt, the client can end up with the jaundiced view that 'the judge confirmed that my solicitor acted so badly that he/she had to pay me compensation but the SDT simply let him/her off to do the same again to some other unsuspecting mug'. This is a recipe for bringing the profession into disrepute.

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