The Solicitors Regulation Authority is set to increase financial penalties up to £25,000 on law firms and solicitors falling short of professional standards.
Fixed penalties will be introduced for lower-level breaches, which will mean cases such as administrative failings can be dealt with more quickly.
Last year the SRA launched a public consultation on the changes, with the aim to protect the public, provide a more appropriate deterrent and ensures cases can be resolved much more quickly – reducing costs and stress.
The changes, subject to approval from the Legal Services Board, will reduce the number of cases passed onto the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal as the SRA keeps work in-house.
The regulator received 7,500 responses to a consultation on its proposals and claims the majority were ‘broadly in favour of the principles’ outlined, although there were differing views on how the proposals would be implemented.
The SRA will, for the first time, take into account the turnover of firms and the financial means of individuals when setting fines – in theory offering scope to hit City firms and lawyers harder when they breach the rules.
Guidance will also be amended to dictate that cases finding sexual misconduct, discrimination or any other form of harassment must result in a suspension or strike-off rather than a fine, barring exceptional circumstances.
Anna Bradley, SRA chair, said: “The overwhelming majority of solicitors meet the standards we all expect, but when they don’t, we step in to protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession. These changes will mean we can resolve issues more quickly, saving time and cost for everyone and, importantly, reducing the inevitable stress for those in our enforcement processes.
“It was good to see broad support for our proposals, as well as getting feedback that has helped us refine our approach. It is vital that everyone can be confident that our approach is fair and transparent.”
A further consultation will be held later this year to ask about how a fixed-penalty regime would work and what breaches it will cover.