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A QUESTION OF TRUST: Should solicitors be independently regulated? UK public say “Yes” – according to research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

06 Feb

Lawyers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves – say public. RESEARCH conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – the body charged with investigating solicitors in England & Wales, shows there is strong support in the rest of the UK for a move to make the SRA fully independent of the Law Society of England & Wales.

And, unlike Scotland, where the Law Society of Scotland ‘fronted’ regulation model – the  Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) – continues to be driven by former Law Society staff – the English based Solicitors Regulation Authority wants a complete break from the over arching power & influence of the legal profession’s representative body – to enable it to conduct fully independent regulation of legal practitioners.

Proposals from the UK Government to fully separate legal regulators from professional bodies have been backed by polls reporting that 82 percent of adults in England and Wales say solicitors should be regulated independently.

Research conducted by ComRes – a leading research consultancy on behalf of the SRA, has found that 86 percent of adults in England and Wales believe solicitors should be regulated—similar to doctors and more than for other professions such as dentists and accountants.

And when asked about the type of regulation, there is overwhelming support for independent regulation.

Looking at how regulation affected public trust in solicitors, 68 percent of respondents said they were more likely to trust an independently regulated profession.

When asked directly about the proposals to deliver fully independent regulation, 77 percent agreed that they support the Government’s attempts to do so.

Commenting on the research, Chief Executive of the SRA, Paul Philip, said: “This research shows that the public overwhelmingly support independent regulation. Public confidence is key and, as this polling shows, people say they will have greater trust in their solicitor if they know they are independently regulated.

“I am clear that separating out regulator and representative body would not only meet public expectations, but would enhance the important role of the Law Society in making sure the voice of solicitors is heard and respected.”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority recently ran a campaign titled “A Question of Trust” – which invited the public and profession to share their views on what should happen when solicitors fall short of the professional standards set out in the SRA Handbook.

The campaign used scenarios based on real-life cases to ask how serious the issues are and what action should be taken.

The response has been impressive with thousands of people getting involved.

In total the campaign secured: More than 2,350 online survey responses, 6.5m impressions on social media, including 10,000 engagements on Twitter and 1,636 answers via our Twitter polls, Almost 4,500 visitors to our website’s “Hot topics” page, where the Question of Trust toolkit for firms could be found, 3,000 attendees to our events around England and Wales.

The input from the four-month campaign will help with the development of a reference framework for our staff to use when making regulatory decisions, including whether to refer to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Commenting on the campaign, SRA CEO, Paul Philip, said: “This is a landmark campaign that has really engaged people. Regulation is part of the social contract between the profession and the public and it important that we calibrate and validate what we do. Thank you to the thousands of solicitors and members of the public who have helped us with this.

“We asked people about what should happen when things go wrong. I believe that clear, consistent and transparent decision making is fundamental to good regulation and we are reviewing our end to end procedures accordingly. Our new reference framework will help staff and the profession alike.

“We refer the most serious cases to the SDT. The Tribunal is rightly independent and our campaign was not about how it operates. It was about stimulating a debate on the standards the public can expect of solicitors. Of course, each case must turn on its merits and we have a right of appeal where we think the Tribunal has got it wrong.

“A Question of Trust addressed the big issues at the heart of regulation and shows that there is real public interest in the high standards expected of solicitors. Testing what we do with the profession and the public increases public confidence, not only in regulation but in the profession itself.”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is due to report further on their campaign later this year.

Responding to the SRA statement on regulatory independence, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “We support independent regulation. Regulation is about the minimum regulatory rules which should apply to the whole market to protect consumers. This is very different from professional standards of behaviour, conduct and ethics, which should be the responsibility of the profession, as they are best placed to raise these standards.”

“There is an opportunity to put in place better and simpler regulation which applies to all legal services, as currently many legal services providers are not regulated. This means that purchasers of some legal services are not protected.”

“Currently the regulatory maze is complex. There are numerous regulators of legal services and there is an opportunity to consolidate to save cost. There is also confusion because currently there is a very broad definition of regulation, which includes regulatory rules, professional standards and conduct, ethics, entry into the profession and awarding the professional title.”

“Paradoxically, the most qualified and trained are the most regulated; the least qualified and trained are not regulated. This is a mistake. There is an opportunity to redefine what regulation should cover to ensure that it is simple and better, and applies to all legal services. Regulation should not include professional standards and conduct, nor entry into the profession and awarding a professional title. In order to drive professional standards, the responsibility needs to be with the profession. This will ensure that the reputation of the profession at home and internationally is secured and that England and Wales remains the jurisdiction of choice, and that the legal profession is seen to be independent from government, enabling it to uphold the rule of law.”

The Times newspaper reported on the research conducted by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, excerpt follows here:

It’s time to have an independent body to police solicitors February 3, 2016

Should solicitors be independently regulated? The public certainly thinks so, according to a new poll this week, Frances Gibb writes. In the latest move in the current battleground between the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the profession’s watchdog and the Law Society, the professional body for 160,000 solicitors in England and Wales, the SRA has published a poll showing strong support for its wish to become fully independent of the society.

The move could radically change the role and funding of the society — at present bound with the SRA. How it works is that the SRA tells the society what it needs and the society agrees the figure. The society’s council then adds a sum for activities that it is authorised to conduct and together the figure determines what solicitors pay for their practising certificate fee.

Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, says: “The present arrangement is not understandable to the man or woman on the street. Most people would be surprised to know that the people who regulate solicitors are part of the body that represents the profession. In terms of public trust, you might have a question mark about that.”

Meanwhile, the SRA is ready to make a strong case when ministers consult on regulation in March. “There’s an inherent conflict between representing the profession and the public,” Philip says. “When push comes to shove, we’re part of the Law Society. If independent, we’d be less expensive and confidence in the profession would be bolstered.”

SCOTLAND – Where the legal profession ensures solicitors look after their own:

In the past eight years of investigating complaints about legal services practitioners in Scotland, the allegedly ‘independent’ Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC has amassed a lengthy history of abusing clients expectations of action against wayward, rogue and corrupt Scots solicitors.

In attempts to placate calls to scrap the SLCC in current form and replace it with a fully independent regulator, the Law Society of Scotland has embarked on regular polls, one of which was widely published in the media claiming huge levels of client satisfaction with legal practitioners.

However, a media investigation by Diary of Injustice into the solicitor satisfaction survey uncovered evidence the Law Society had rigged the poll, and kept details of the SLCC’s involvement a secret, reported here: LAW POLL FIDDLE: Law Society of Scotland survey on client satisfaction used scripted replies, question rigging & involvement of ‘independent’ legal regulator SLCC was kept secret.

The full extent of how the poll had been rigged –  featured in an investigation by DOI reported here: OWNED POLL: Law Society ‘scripted’ survey criticised by Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – new data reveals few clients of dodgy lawyers ask legal regulators for help.

After the series of rigged polls, and the resignation of the SLCC’s then Chief Executive, Matthew Vickers,  the Law Society of Scotland took charge of the ‘independent’ SLCC by appointing one of their own former Directors – Neil Stevenson as the latest Chief Executive of the SLCC.

The move came after a challenging year for self regulation of Scotland’s legal profession – left reeling from the effects of the damaging BBC Scotland investigation “Lawyers Behaving Badly” –  which blew the mask off lawyers investigating their own and legal aid fraud.

A further media investigation into the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission recently revealed most of the SLCC’s key staff and investigators are in-fact families, friends & business associates of solicitors, reported here: ‘Independent’ Scots legal watchdog consists of solicitors’ husbands, wives, sons, daughters, cousins, friends, & employers.

Previous media investigations, reports and coverage of issues relating to the SLCC can be found here: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission – A history of pro-lawyer regulation.

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