The Solicitors Regulation Authority is pushing ahead with plans to introduce tougher sanctions and higher fines, following a consultation with the industry.
As part of a suite of changes, the regulator expects to target the harsher sanctions of “restrictions on practice, suspension or strike off” when dealing with issues of sexual misconduct, discrimination or any form of harassment, as opposed to financial penalties, which it will consider only in “exceptional circumstances”, it confirmed on Monday following a consultation on changes last year.
According to the SRA’s website, the move is designed “to protect the public or maintain confidence in the profession”.
The consultation involved over 7,500 people, the organisation said.
The SRA is also seeking to hike its maximum fines from £2,000 to £25,000, and will aim to implement the higher rate for traditional law firms and individuals who work at them. The changes will also include introducing a schedule of ‘fixed penalties’ for lower-level breaches.
The regulator also said it will take into consideration turnover or individual income when setting fines, adding that would “allow different levels of fine to be issued to a low-earning junior solicitor compared to a senior equity partner for similar offences.”
The SRA believes the raised fines “would mean more disciplinary matters could be dealt with by the SRA directly without being referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).”
It added that the change will enable cases to be resolved more quickly, and that it would “free up” the tribunal to focus on more complex issues.
SRA chair Ann Bradley added in a statement: “The overwhelming majority of solicitors meet the standards we all expect, but when they don’t, we step in to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession. These changes will mean we can resolve issues more quickly, saving time and cost for everyone and, importantly, reducing the inevitable stress for those in our enforcement processes.”