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The SRA is gearing up for a New Year’s campaign of “proportionate enforcement action” against firms that fail to meet the regulator’s deadline for appointing Colps and Cofas, the new compliance officers required under the outcomes-focused regulatory regime.
Firms that do not have a Colp and Cofa in place by 31 December will be in breach of their licensing conditions or practice regulations. Last week the SRA warned that several hundred firms could start the New Year without having their compliance officers (for legal practice Colp and for finance and administration Cofa) in place.
Samantha Barrass, the SRA executive director responsible for the appointment of these key roles, confirmed that while more than 90 per cent of firms had been co-operative with the nominations process, there was still a significant number that had failed either to complete the process or even start it. Most of these firm, Barrass added, were in the small firm category with up to four partners.
Other firms had nominated unsuitable individuals who would not be approved due to disciplinary and other significant issues.
Speaking to The Lawyer today, Barrass confirmed that once the 1 January deadline had passed the SRA would take enforcement action against firms that have still not complied with the new regulations.
“We’re raising the bar here, we want [the Colps and Cofas] to be focal points for compliance with the new regulatory regime and we’re taking an incredibly practical approach to this. We want to work with firms, the idea isn’t to catch them out,” said Barrass. “But we’ll consider proportionate enforcement action against firms that have not complied in 2013.”
Barrass refused to confirm whether any UK top 200 firm was in danger of not complying with the regulations, although she reiterated that the vast majority of the firms the SRA was doing “intensive work” with in the run-up to the deadline were those with four partners or fewer.
“That’s not to say there aren’t issues with larger firms,” Barrass added. “Some have structures that include corporate partners which require their own Colp and Cofa.”
The SRA currently has a large team working intensively over the Christmas period to help as many firms as possible meet the end-of-year deadline. Several thousand approvals have been dispatched over the past week and more will be sent out over the coming days.
The regulator confirmed that those firms that it has not yet contacted but whose nomination was submitted before 31 July should take the view that ‘no news is good news’ and they would receive their approval before 31 December.