SRA decisions are made at the end of an investigation – on the balance of probabilities – as to whether there has been misconduct. If the SRA investigation outcomes conclude there’s been a breach of compliance by an individual lawyer or law firm, they will determine any further actions required to fulfil its statutory duties as a regulator.
The SRA has a broad discretion as to how it achieves its regulatory objectives, but only a limited number of options open to it at this stage. Here, you’ll find some brief information about some of the most common SRA outcomes.
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The best of all the possible SRA outcomes is that you or your firm receive a notification of no further action, which essentially ends the matter.
The SRA may also write a letter of advice or warning about future conduct. This will set out steps you should consider taking to minimise the risks of similar issues arising in the future.
From its investigation findings, the SRA can make certain disciplinary decisions and impose a sanction. This applies where it determines misconduct has taken place and that a sanction within the SRA’s internal disciplinary powers is appropriate.
SRA disciplinary decisions can be made either by an authorised decision maker within the SRA, or one or more of its adjudicators. Its internal sanctioning powers are limited but include imposing a :
- Written rebuke
- Reprimand/severe reprimand
- Fine of up to £2,000
Where the SRA investigation outcomes suggest to the SRA that serious misconduct has taken place, it can refer the case to the SDT. The SRA will usually do this when it considers that its internal powers of sanction are inadequate for the severity of the alleged misconduct. The referral usually has to be authorised internally at the SRA by an authorised decision maker within the SRA or one or more of its adjudicators.
The SDT is an independent statutory tribunal separate from the SRA that has greater disciplinary powers.
The SDT has far greater powers of sanction, including:
- Restrictions on practice
- Unlimited fines exceeding £2,000
A Regulatory Settlement Agreement (RSA) is a form of regulatory alternative dispute resolution aimed at resolving a matter without a full hearing before the SDT.
Any RSAs require admissions by the solicitor or firm of breaches of rules or principles, in return for a level of sanction agreed with the SRA.
Given the need for admissions – often at an early stage – negotiations take place without prejudice. Either side can propose an RSA at any time in the investigation and prosecution process. They are generally entered into before a case has been referred to the SDT.
Significantly, where the matter would otherwise be referred to the SDT due to the SRA’s view of the severity of sanction required, RSAs have to be approved by the SDT before they take effect. The SDT can refuse to approve them or require changes to the terms before it does so.
It is possible to appeal against any internal SRA decisions, findings and sanctions. The first stage of appeal is to an SRA adjudicator or adjudication panel, depending on which body within the SRA made the first decision. Any further appeal is to the SDT.
There is no right of appeal against the authorisation of your case being referred to the SDT. In theory, it’s possible to bring a judicial review of the decision, but the most effective means of avoiding a full SDT hearing at this stage is usually through seeking to enter into a RSA.
The best steps to take next will depend on which of the SRA outcomes arises out of your investigation. These can range from just receiving a written warning to being referred to the SDT.
Referral to the SDT is a stressful experience, as you defend yourself or your firm against various allegations. We’ve been in your shoes and realise how quickly it can feel overwhelming, even for highly experienced lawyers. It’s important you respond, prepare your defence and – if appropriate – negotiate with the SRA effectively to best protect your reputation and livelihood.
Find out what to expect during SDT proceedings and how to properly prepare. At Leigh Day, we can help you all the way – from advising on your response to any allegations to representing you at the tribunal.