SRA scheme to bypass tribunal

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has launched a system that will allow investigations against solicitors to be settled without turning to the Tribunals Service.

The scheme will allow for settlements in scenarios similar to that of the conflicts investigation into Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s former corporate chief Barry O’Brien over his role in the firm’s decision to accept a conflicted instruction bidding for Marks & Spencer.

In O’Brien’s case the investigation took three years, but under the new scheme the inquiry would have been significantly shorter as O’Brien was willing to apologise for his error and pay the pentalty, in that case £9,000 plus £50,000 costs.

Under the new arrangements, which will only be used if the SRA believes it is in the public interest, solicitors may have to agree to come off the roll permanently or for a specified time. Also, solicitors will be expected to admit their failings with a promise to improve their performance.

In addition to the conflicts scenario, the SRA has laid out two other main situations where settlements can be reached. This includes where there has been a system failure within a firm, rather than a culpable individual failure, and where it is clear that the problem has been addressed.

The SRA will also allow an agreement to be reached where a supervision failure within the firm has contributed to misconduct by an individual who is no longer in the firm.

Antony Townsend, SRA’s chief executive, said the settlement procedure will help provide prompt, transparent and efficient regulation and should contain costs.

“For solicitors they will mean a more timely and generally less costly process than going to the tribunal,” said Townsend. “It will be for the SRA to decide whether an agreement is appropriate and we will firmly resist pressure to use them if a solicitor is contesting our decision or doesn’t accept our sanction.”