The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has announced it has launched a consultation on its approach to financial penalties for law firms and solicitors for when they “fall short of the expected professional standards”.
The published proposals include increasing the maximum fine the SRA can issue to £25,000, taking into account the turnover or income of firms and individuals when setting fines, and introducing a schedule of fixed penalties of up to £1,500 “to enable lesser issues to be dealt with more easily”.
Currently, the SRA can only issue fines to traditional law firms, or individual solicitors, of up to £2,000.
Additionally, the regulation authority also proposes that, for more serious cases, it is able to fine firms up to 5% of annual turnover.
The SRA said the introduction of measures to take income into account when setting fines for individuals will allow different levels of fines to be issued to a low earning junior solicitor compared to a senior equity partner for similar offences.
In addition, the authority said the aim of these proposals is to “resolve cases much more quickly, improving public protection and saving time and cost for everyone, as well as reducing the stress for the profession”.
Increasing its fining threshold to £25,000 would mean “a broader range of disciplinary matters could be dealt with by the SRA directly”, without cases needing to be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
The SRA added: “This would mean cases could be resolved quickly, potentially reducing the cost, resource and stress burden a hearing places on all involved. It could also free up time at the SDT to progress the most serious cases.”
Anna Bradley, SRA chair, said: “We know that the overwhelming majority of solicitors and firms do a good job, providing high-quality legal services to the public, and meeting the standards we set. But when those standards are not met, we need to step in to make sure that consumers are protected and confidence in the profession is well placed.
“Our proposals are designed to resolve issues much more quickly, saving time and cost for everyone and, importantly, reducing the inevitable stress for those who find themselves in our enforcement processes. Changes to our fining powers would also allow the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal to focus on the most serious cases.”
She added: “This is a real opportunity to update our enforcement approach and we would welcome views from across the profession, other regulators and more widely.”