I’m buying a listed property - How do I check a recent kitchen extension was done with the right approvals?
This article was first published by The Times on 25 March 2021 which you can read in full by clicking here (subscription required).
The solicitors’ watchdog is right to take charge of misconduct cases but it needs firmer guidance to succeed .
Compared with other watchdogs, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has been one of the most vocal and active on so-called #MeToo issues.
However, its approach is still a jumble after Ryan Beckwith, a former partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, last November overturned a disciplinary tribunal for misconduct. As a result, the profession urgently needs clarity.
The authority has rightly formed the view that sexual misconduct in law firms is a regulatory matter. This move was critical to bolster and support its role in encouraging and enforcing diversity and equality.
But however justified that stance, it came in an area where there were no existing principles that indicated what the parameters of any misconduct would be. This arena was, and still is, such new territory that a policy view would have been helpful at the outset, setting out the SRA’s position on what behaviour should be categorised as misconduct, where the line falls in respect of public and private life and what distinguishes serious and less serious cases.
The SRA has produced warning notices on various closely linked topics including the use of non-disclosure agreements. It is not clear why it has not done so in relation to sexual misconduct in the workplace.
If guidance had been issued and cases strategically selected to illuminate the boundaries, then policy from the SRA coupled with subsequent disciplinary tribunal decisions would have provided clarity.
The SRA has still not issued any detailed policy guidance and the cases it has brought have not brought clarity. While some cases have succeeded, Beckwith clearly did not and the High Court ruling in November muddied the water further.
Three key areas were engaged by the facts of the case: consent, the private life boundary and abuse of power. On consent, the SRA did not, for reasons that are not entirely clear, allege any wrongdoing. As to abuse of power, no evidence was advanced. As a consequence of this approach, the High Court clearly was reluctant to find professional misconduct without a sound basis.
The decision in Beckwith, the first to reach the High Court on this important topic, did not take the issues any further forward and if anything is a backward step for the SRA. But anyone that thinks it will stop the regulator from investigating and referring matters to the tribunal is mistaken.
Firms and individuals need to understand where the boundaries lie so that they can make informed decisions on reporting obligations. Understanding the boundaries will also help drive forward the cultural change that is necessary in some parts of the profession.
The SRA must consider the lessons from the cases it has brought, as well as those it has not, and share that learning with the profession.
Iain Miller is a Partner in the Regulatory department and specialises in advising law firms and the legal professionals on legal ethics, investigations, and public law matters. He is General Editor of the leading textbook on legal services regulation, Cordery on Legal Services as well as Chair of the Association of Regulatory and Disciplinary Lawyers.
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As the legal profession returns to the office after many months ensconced in home offices, many will be looking forward to the increase in social interaction and in-person activities which will inevitably follow. Alongside this, legal services regulators appear to be gearing up for a commensurate rise in bullying and harassment complaints. With developments apace in this area among the UK regulators and further afield, what are we likely to see next from the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA)?
Every solicitor knows that an undertaking is serious stuff. Arguably it is the greatest power available to a solicitor. A promise, if broken, that will lead to immediate and serious consequences for the giver. As such it can be relied upon to the ends of the earth. The power of undertakings has meant that they sit at the heart of every property transaction, bridging the time gap between the sending of money and the receiving of title. They are also used in other areas of commercial life and as part of litigation. The “brand” of a solicitor’s undertaking is so powerful that little thought is given as to where their power comes from.
Julie Norris and Jessica Clay consider SRA entity regulation and the imperative to create an ethical (ergo, compliant) legal workplace.
The pandemic has highlighted the importance of good mental health and resilience both in and out of the office. Bronwen Still and Lucinda Soon consider your obligations
The solicitors’ watchdog is right to take charge of misconduct cases but it needs firmer guidance to succeed
In our fourth blog in our series on Beckwith v Solicitors Regulation Authority  EWHC 3231 (Admin), we turn our attention to consider what impact, if any, this landmark decision might have on the regulation of professional accountants. While the case turned on some very specific features relating to the regulation of solicitors as contained in the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) Principles and Code of conduct, some parts of the judgment may have more general application.
In the two years preceding Ryan Beckwith’s appeal to the High Court, the SRA pursued a handful of other sexual misconduct cases before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (Tribunal). These cases are varied and fact-specific and include sexual misconduct in and relating to the workplace and conduct outside of work.
Regulatory investigations across all sectors are increasing in complexity, with a corresponding increase in the size of the cost applications made by regulators upon successful prosecution. For solicitors facing investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’), the costs associated with prosecutions before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (‘SDT’) have made the headlines recently for their size. In Beckwith, for example, the Divisional Court referred to the SRA’s costs of c.£340,000 as “alarming.”
On 12 March 2018 the SRA published its warning notice on the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). This was in the wake of the widespread publicity at the time given to NDAs which had been considered too draconian in reach and effect.
In this 3-part tech blog series, we’ve explored how legal and accountancy regulators are driving and responding to changes in technology and innovation in their respective professions. We’ve also considered the commercial perspective, looking at interesting developments in these sectors , particularly around the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
In this second blog in our technology and innovation series, we look at some recent developments in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal and accountancy sectors.
In the first of our Tech blog series, we take a look at how regulators in the accountancy and legal sectors are supporting technological innovation in their respective professional sectors, and how they themselves might adapt their regulatory approach in the new era of digital technology.
It has been a year since the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) launched its Standards and Regulations (StaRs) and even longer since the revised Enforcement Strategy was rolled out. This time last year, we produced a series of blogs relating to launch of the StaRs and provided our views on what we thought you needed to know.
The route to obtaining a prestigious job in the legal profession is hard enough without the worry of whether past misdemeanours will prevent you from being admitted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as a solicitor. Convictions or cautions in early life (for even relatively minor offences), student disciplinary findings, civil debts and the like, are all capable of preventing prospective solicitors seeking admission to the roll becoming qualified as a solicitor. Since May 2018, prospective solicitors have had the ability to seek an early character and suitability assessment under the Authorisation of Individuals Regulations, enabling them to understand if something they did in the past could be a bar to entry to the profession.
After months of many solicitors working from home, it's easy to get comfortable. But with complacency comes the risk of non-compliance with your regulatory obligations. Jessica Clay provides a refresher on your duties, the risks involved in remote working, and how you can stay compliant.
As another case involving allegations of sexual misconduct relating to a senior partner of a law firm has been concluded before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal just this week, resulting in the imposition of a £10,000 fine being confirmed on 22 July 2020, it is perhaps safe to say that, for now, there is no sign that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has lost its appetite to investigate and act on reports of this nature that it receives.
Professor Stephen Mayson’s ‘Reforming Legal Services: Regulation beyond the echo chambers’ report has now been submitted to the Lord Chancellor as the final product of a two-year independent review into the regulation of legal services in England and Wales.
Julie Norris and Jessica Clay spoke at the end of January 2020 at the ARK risk and compliance conference on the topic of promoting a good working culture in law firms. This is the final blog in a series of three blogs. It focuses on the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in promoting a good working culture
Julie Norris and Jessica Clay spoke at the end of January 2020 at the ARK risk and compliance conference on the topic of promoting a good working culture in law firms. This blog is the second in a series of three and focuses on the importance of wellbeing in the workplace.
With BBC reports that there have been 178,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour in the last four weeks across England and Wales alone, if a solicitor receives a fixed penalty notice for a non-essential journey away from home - do they have to inform the SRA?
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