Solicitors Regulation Authority Principles

Solicitors Regulation Authority Principles

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Understanding Solicitors Regulation Authority Principles

Jan 27, 2023 | Articles

Understanding Solicitors Regulation Authority Principles

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulatory body that oversees solicitors and most law firms in England and Wales provide seven principles (the Principles) that all people and businesses regulated by the authority must abide by. The SRA states the Principles:

“comprise the fundamental tenets of ethical behaviour that we expect all those that we regulate to uphold”.

When it comes to regulatory compliance and handling complaints, every member of your staff must understand what is required from them under the seven SRA Principles. SRA investigations and/or prosecutions (the latter being in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT)) are not only reputationally damaging, but they are also exceptionally stressful and distract staff from providing normal standards of client service. Therefore, it is best business practice to prevent complaints that could lead to the SRA investigating your practice.

Why are the SRA principles important?

All individuals authorised by the SRA to provide legal services (Solicitors, RELs and RFLs), as well as authorised firms and their managers and employees are subject to the Principles. For licensed bodies, these apply to those people, and the part of the body (where applicable), involved in providing the services the SRA regulates in accordance with the terms of the body’s licence.

Like all professions, those that work with the law undertake enormous responsibility on behalf of their clients. This can include handling considerable sums of money (often a client’s entire life savings) to advising on criminal matters that could ultimately impact their liberty. The Principles, therefore, are in place to protect the public and the reputation of the legal profession as a whole.

What are the seven principles of the SRA?

Authorised people and firms must act:

  1. in a way that upholds the constitutional principle of the rule of law, and the proper administration of justice.
  2. in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons.
  3. with independence.
  4. with honesty.
  5. with integrity.
  6. in a way that encourages equality, diversity, and inclusion.
  7. in the best interests of each client.

If there is a conflict between the Principles, those which protect the wider public interest (such as public confidence in the legal profession and the rule of law) should take priority over an individual client’s interests. It is important, if possible, to explain any conflict to your client and set out why you have made one principle prevalent over another.

What is meant by ‘honesty’ under the SRA Principles?

An accusation of acting dishonestly must be taken extremely seriously. If the SRA believes you have acted dishonestly, they will refer you to the SDT and if a decision is made against you, it is almost certain you will be struck off the Roll of Solicitors.

The test for whether or not a person has acted dishonestly was confirmed in the Court of Appeal decision in R v Barton & Booth [2020] EWCA Crim 575 which confirmed Lord Hughes approach in Ivey v Genting Casinos (UK) (trading as Cockfords Club) [2017] UKSC 67; [2018] AC 391.

Details on how the Court should apply the objective test for dishonesty as it was explained in passing (known as Obiter) in Ivey is described in paragraph 108 of Barton:

“This approach, which was the approach of the Supreme Court in Ivey, makes clear that when Lord Hughes talked in [74] of the “actual state of mind as to knowledge or belief as to the facts” [our emphasis] he was referring to all the circumstances known to the accused and not limiting consideration to past facts. All matters that lead an accused to act as he or she did will form part of the subjective mental state, thereby forming a part of the fact-finding exercise before applying the objective standard. That will include consideration, where relevant, of the experience and intelligence of an accused. In an example much used in debate on this issue, the visitor to London who fails to pay for a bus journey believing it to be free (as it is, for example, in Luxembourg) would be no more dishonest that the diner or shopper who genuinely forgets to pay before leaving a restaurant or shop. The Magistrates or jury in such cases would first establish the facts and then apply an objective standard of dishonesty to those facts, with those facts being judged by reference to the usual burden and standard of proof”.

In other words, the Court should consider the Defendant’s knowledge or belief as to the facts of the situation and judge their conduct in relation to that knowledge or belief on the standards of ordinary, decent people.

What is meant by acting with ‘integrity’?

The terms ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ often overlap. In two appeal cases heard in 2018, Wingate & Anr v Solicitors Regulation Authority and Solicitors Regulation Authority v Malins [2018] EWCA Civ 366, Lord Justice Rupert Jackson stated that integrity was a more “nebulous” term than honesty, therefore more difficult to define:

“In professional codes of conduct, the term “integrity” is a useful shorthand to express the higher standards which society expects from professional persons and which the professions expect from their own members. The underlying rationale is that the professions have a privileged and trusted role in society. In return they are required to live up to their own professional standards.”

The SRA provides examples of situations in which they are likely to take disciplinary action for breaching Principle 5 (integrity), including where there has been a wilful or reckless disregard of standards, rules, legal requirements, or ethics, and in cases where clients have been misled.

Concluding comments

This is the first of a series of articles on SRA compliance. If you require in-house or virtual compliance support, we can provide proactive solutions to help you manage risks and reduce compliance breaches.

To find out more about any matters discussed in this article, please email us at [email protected] or phone 0121 249 2400.

Please note that this article does not constitute legal advice.

 

Understanding Solicitors Regulation Authority Principles

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