Whistleblowers need protection
The SDT found the two senior partners, Jonathan Ippazio De Vita and Christopher John Platt, guilty of dishonest conduct (mainly overcharging and drawing down on funds without instructions). The trainee had raised the alarm, but despite ‘horrendous’ working conditions and pressure from her superiors, the SRA nonetheless barred the trainee from the profession for her role in falsifying documents.
The trainee has since expressed her bitter disappointment in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph about the way in which she was treated by the SRA and SDT.
Why it matters
The immediate concern for us is that cases like this will deter whistle-blowers (who are often acting under pressure from superiors) from speaking up.
The SRA has since indicated that it will review its whistleblowers charter, and be clearer about the protections that will be offered to those that do come forward.
Perhaps the wider issue for the profession to deal with is how we can protect junior lawyers getting into this type of situation in the first place. Trainees, and those looking for training contracts, are particularly vulnerable to pressure tactics.
SRA to conduct transparency sweep of 500 firms
The SRA has, this week, announced that it will be undertaking a ‘sweep’. It has been reported that the Chief Executive, Paul Phillip, confirmed that the SRA intends to choose firms’ websites at random to check whether they are compliant with the new transparency rules including the publishing of pricing and service information.
The SRA says that they will take a ‘proportionate’ response to firms who are yet to get things right. This message was also emphasised at the SRA conference in December. However, those firms who are found to be deliberately or repeatedly failing to adhere to transparency rules, or provide misleading information, will face more serious consequences.
This announcement comes on the back a recent LexisNexis report, “The changing face of law“, which highlights the concerns that the new transparency regime threatens to push down prices at the expense of quality.
The Bar Standards Board will also be rolling out new transparency rules in May. Public access barristers, in particular, will have to publish indicative pricing in many practice areas.
Why it matters
Quite simply, we already suspected, but now know, that the SRA will be checking a sizeable sample of websites.
One may take the cynical view that a so-minded regulator may start the ‘random’ sweep with those firms that haven’t yet downloaded the digital badge. This could be an indicator that a firm may not be quite up to speed. (The Digital Badge isn’t yet compulsory).
Big brother is watching!
New Handbook delayed?
We were all expecting the new SRA rules to be published in April 2019, but in a recent article for legalfutures, former SRA Director Crispin Passmore says that “a further delay to the summer seems inevitable“.
If there is going to be a delay, we would guess that the SRA will hold off until after summer holidays are over. September or October, then?
New SRA enforcement strategy published.
The regulator has published its new enforcement strategy, in which it aims to clarify reporting duties and when and how the SRA will take enforcement action.
It emphasises that firms and individuals are duty bound to report:
“any facts or matters which they reasonably believe are capable of amounting to a serious breach of our standards or requirements“.
Although ‘serious’ breaches must be reported promptly, the regulator does not want reports which “lack merit, are frivolous or of breaches that are minor or technical in nature“.
Why it matters
Whilst this new strategy is supposed to clarify matters, we are no closer to what “serious” actually means. We’ve always taken the rule of thumb that serious means anything that keeps you awake at night, but it would be nice to have some proper guidance given what is at stake.
Vulnerable client sent inaccessible letters
It has been reported that a firm sent letters including latin phrases to client with known learning difficulties. The matter was referred to the Legal Ombudsman who determined that the client had received poor service.
LeO explained that when considering whether a client received fair and reasonable service it looks at any particular vulnerabilities and level of understanding or experience of that person.
Why it matters
Solicitors are duty bound to ensure that due consideration is given to the needs of their client. It is entrenched within the Code of Conduct you must ensure that “the service you provide to clients is competent, delivered in a timely manner and takes account of your clients’ needs and circumstances” (O1.5).
Under the Equality Act 2010, firms have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’. Under this duty firms must anticipate the needs of people with particular types of disability as well as making tailored reasonable adjustments for individuals. The Law Society has provided a useful practice note which would be helpful to firms when drafting its vulnerable client policy.
- Stephen Baggott has been fined £2000 and ordered to pay £300 for having driven to a police station in response to a duty call whilst under the influence of alcohol.
- Tim Bennett received a fine of £5000 having calling a complainant a “nutter”
- Bina Mistry has been struck off for having failed to correct a judge who believed her to be counsel