Towards the end of 2021 the SRA announced that they were proposing an increase in fining powers from £2,000 to £25,000. In addition, the regulator announced the development of a new fast track system for ‘fixed penalties’ for low-level offenses. It was recently announced that these proposed changes will go ahead. Upon confirmation of the increasing fining powers the SRA said that cases with fines below £25,000 are usually matters which are straightforward to investigate and do not merit the time of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.
The regulator conducted a consultation on the proposed changes and 39 formal responses were received. Furthermore, the consultation engaged with 7,500 people via focus groups, surveys, polls and emails, etc. From this consultation the regulator claims that the majority of respondents were ‘broadly in favour of the principles’. However, some respondents had differing opinions on how the proposals should be implemented.
What effects will the changes have on the legal sector?
This increase in fining power should mean that the number of cases given to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal will decrease. This will enable the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to focus on more serious breaches of the rules.
For the first time ever, the SRA will be taking the firm’s turnover and the individual’s finances into account when applying fines. The aim of this is to ensure that largest firms are punished more severely for breaking the rules.
Further amendments to the rules say that any cases where sexual misconduct, discrimination or harassment are involved must result in suspension or a strike-off instead of a fine unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Independent adjudicators that have not been involved with the investigation will be imposing the fines. The SRA have said that this new approach will be monitored and they will analyse the impact on particular groups including older solicitors, men, and minority ethnic backgrounds. These three groups are all over-represented in the enforcement process.
Currently, the SRA is in a consultation to discuss how they will publish decision notices and what information it shares. Once the increased fining powers are introduced this will be highly significant as the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal normally presents additional details when their judgments are published.
Towards the end of 2022 another consultation will be held to discuss how the fixed-penalty regime will be implemented and which breaches it should cover.
How can we help?
Hawsons is one of the few accountancy practices with a dedicated team of solicitor accountants specialising in the needs of solicitors and legal professionals.
We act for a large number of law firms across all three of our offices and offer a wide range of services which are tailored to meet their individual needs. Our legal client base consists of a multitude of firms of varying structure and size, from sole traders to limited companies and LLPs with corporate members.
Our understanding of the unique issues that many in the sector are facing, combined with our technical experience, allows our solicitor specialists to provide you with proactive, commercial and informed accountancy and tax advice.
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