SRA defends allegations of racist investigation process

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) chief executive Antony Townsend met with MP Keith Vaz and 40 aggrieved lawyers to rebuff allegations that the SRA is racist in its investigations of black and minority ethnicity (BME) lawyers.

At the heart of the allegation are figures from a 2006 internal SRA report on ethnicity and diversity, which appear to show a disproportionate number of investigations into BME solicitors’ practices.

Possible reasons given by the SRA for the discrepancy include that BME practitioners tend to work in smaller firms, which are more likely to be investigated, and that foreign BME lawyers requalifying in England and Wales may not have been adequately prepared for the regulatory environment.

Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, did not agree that these factors were a sufficient explanation. “It’s the same old excuse that people give, but it just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny,” he said. “It’s exactly what happened to African American lawyers in the US in the past.”

He added that if the Law Society is not fit to act as regulator of BME lawyers, his organisation would hope to set up another body that is.

On publication of the report in 2006, Stephen Friday of the Black Solicitors’ Network noted that there seemed to be a problem, but said more detailed analysis was needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.

A source close to the SRA said there is a lot of lofty intention within the SRA to tackle this issue, but little delivery.