SRA sets up body to investigate racism claims

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has set up an independent working party to investigate claims that it is racist.

The working party, chaired by Anesta Weekes QC of 23 Essex Street chambers, was set up in response to claims from Leicester East MP Keith Vaz that the SRA is racist against non-white lawyers when it carries out investigations. Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, made the claims last October ( 16 October 2007).

The group investigating the claims will include representatives of different black and ethnic minority (BME) solicitor practitioner groups.

Michael Webster, chairman of the Black Solicitors Network, commented: “It is a positive first step to have a working party to deal with an issue which is very serious.”

It is understood that the working group hopes to conclude its investigation within six months and will eventually publish its findings. In the meantime the investigations will remain confidential due to the sensitive nature of the issues and cases being discussed.

The working party will solicit organisations and individuals to contribute to the review with questions, concerns or direct participation.

The SRA’s head of equality and diversity Mehrunnisa Lalani is acting as the group’s secretary and should be contacted by 6 March 2008 by organisations interested in taking part in the group.

The original claim that the SRA is racist stems from 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.