Professional discipline update June 2019
Welcome to the June 2019 edition of Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary bulletin
It has been a busy period for professional discipline and solicitors’ regulation, with important rule changes announced and fascinating proposals made about how the regulatory and disciplinary system should work. We summarise some of the key developments in this edition of our bulletin.
The team’s work this quarter has been varied and interesting, including: obtaining an adjournment in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in a complex case taken on shortly before a final hearing; assisting a whistleblowing solicitor against whom the Solicitors Regulation Authority has subsequently made allegations of misconduct; and advising a firm on its duties of
cooperation with its regulators. We’re grateful to these clients for allowing us to share this information with you.
Frances Swaine, Managing Partner and Head of Regulatory & Disciplinary, Leigh Day
Lowering the standard of proof
In April, the SDT announced that it would lower the standard of proof it applies from the criminal to the civil standard from 25 November 2019, subject to approval by the Legal Services Board.
Announcing the change, SDT President Edward Nally said it would enhance the protection of the public interest and the promotion of the reputation and standing of the profession. He rejected suggestions notably from the Law Society that it will result in “easier” prosecutions for the SRA, adding that the SDT will continue to scrutinise all allegations brought before it, identifying any “cogent and compelling evidence before finding allegations proved”.
Fitness to practise
The law can be an extremely demanding and stressful profession. Against that backdrop, questions about how to promote responsible practice and wellbeing among lawyers have come increasingly into focus. Our team has written extensively on these issues and what they mean for individuals, firms and the regulatory regime, read their thoughts.
In April, the SDT recommended that the SRA consider creating a fitness to practise regime to sit alongside the existing disciplinary one. Emma Walker took up the topic in the Law Society Gazette and with LawCare’s Chief Executive, Elizabeth Rimmer, in an interview recorded to mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2019.
LawCare’s mission is to help the legal community with personal or professional concerns that may be affecting their mental health and wellbeing and to promote understanding of how and when to seek help, without fear or stigma. You’ll find more information about LawCare on their website and under our “Useful links” for the legal profession.
Read Emma Walker’s article on the difficult decision the SDT faced in deciding whether to lower the standard of proof.
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Change ahead on reporting potential breaches
In our March bulletin, we highlighted the SRA’s proposed changes to rules requiring solicitors, firms and those who work for them to report breaches of professional rules. In May, the Legal Services Board approved new rules which will come into force on 25 November 2019, alongside the SRA’s new Standards & Regulations.
The new rules go considerably further than previous requirements. They mean practitioners must report any facts they reasonably believe are capable of amounting to a serious breach of professional rules to the SRA or any other relevant regulator. They must also inform the SRA promptly of any facts they reasonably believe should be brought to its attention so that it can investigate or take any other action necessary in accordance with its regulatory powers. Where an individual notifies their firm’s compliance officer of facts capable of amounting to a serious breach, their obligation to report is only discharged if the notification is made on the understanding that the compliance officer will report onward to the SRA. Where individuals are not satisfied their compliance officer will do so, they will remain responsible for the report.
You can find out more about Leigh Day’s Regulatory & Disciplinary Team and how we can help you in this section of our website. To speak to a member of the team, contact us on 020 3780 0406 or at RDteam@leighday.co.uk.