he Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is proposing a second phase of changes to its rules for solicitors to make them simpler and more focused on high standards, reducing the length of its Handbook by more than 300 pages.
The SRA’s Handbook sets out the standards it expects solicitors and firms to meet and the rules they should follow. The SRA has already consulted on the first phase of changes to create a simpler code of conduct and accounts rules. It is now consulting on its other rules, including how it approves firms, and assesses the suitability of those entering the profession.
The new Handbook is set to be around 130 pages and would keep rules that help maintain high professional standards, such as the need for compliance officers in all firms. However, it would get rid of some restrictive rules that add cost without sufficient public benefit. Changes include removing:
- the need for early checks on students and trainees, so that character and suitability testing is focussed on point of entry to the profession
- the need for a solicitor owner or manager to seek SRA approval before moving firms or roles. In future, they will inform the SRA
- the, often misunderstood, rules around being ‘qualified to supervise’, which do not provide any guarantee of competence, but prevent solicitors establishing their own firms once they have qualified.
The SRA also proposes allowing a solicitor to provide reserved legal services, in certain circumstances, on a freelance basis to the public. They would not be able to hold client money or employ people, but would need appropriate indemnity insurance. This would simplify the current situation where there is a complex series of exemptions for solicitors who want to work in areas such as certain insurance services, law centres and doing pro bono.
Other changes aim to make the Handbook easier to use. For instance, the details of how people can appeal SRA decisions are now all grouped in one place.
The consultation also includes a revised enforcement policy. It aims to provide more clarity about how, and when, the SRA will, or will not, enforce. Factors it would take account of when considering action include intent, harm caused, patterns of behaviour, vulnerability of the client, seniority of the solicitor, and any remedial action taken.
The policy reflects the findings of the SRA’s ‘Question of Trust’ campaign which collected the views of 5,400 members of the public and profession. In keeping with the results, the SRA will continue to treat offences such as misuse of client money, dishonesty and criminal activities as the most serious.
Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive said: “This is a simpler Handbook with a sharp focus on what matters – high professional standards and appropriate public protections.
“Pages of complex bureaucracy do not benefit anybody. Our approach rightly puts the onus on professional judgement and ethics. Most solicitors do a good job and earn the trust people place in them. But a small minority do not. Our enforcement policy makes clear when and how we will act if things go wrong. It is essential that both the public and the profession can have confidence that we hold solicitors to account and act in a fair way.”
The consultation also includes proposals for transitional arrangement for the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This is set to be introduced in autumn 2020. All those starting the qualification process from then onwards must take the SQE. However, the SRA wants to make sure that those who have started the process of qualification through the current routes have a fair opportunity to complete it. They will have until 2031 to qualify this way.
The consultation Looking to the future: phase two of our Handbook reforms runs until 20 December. As part of this programme of work, the SRA is also consulting on publishing better information to help the public make legal choices. The consultations are available at: www.sra.org.uk/consultations