Monthly Compliance Update – June 2024

Access LegalBy Legal Futures Associate Access Legal

The big news this month is the announcement that a vote of no confidence in President and Chief Executive of The Law Society is being pursued by the Property Lawyers Action Group; the vote relates to their handling of the introduction of new material information requirements and Forms TA6/7, and in particular, the lack of consultation with conveyancing solicitors working at the coal face.

In a recent press article the Society admitted it should have consulted more widely and has said it will do so in future, but this appears to have done little to quell the unrest in the conveyancing sector; it will be interesting to see how things progress!

New SRA inspections

The Solicitors Regulation Authority is seeking new powers to launch “wide-sweeping inspections” of law firms without needing the trigger of a specific allegation of misconduct. Should such powers be made available it will put more pressure on firms to ensure they are meeting their various regulatory obligations.

Review of the Legal Services Act 2007

Following the publication of a recent Justice Committee report, the former Lord Chancellor, Alex Chaulk, KC, has acknowledged a growing case for a review of the LSA 2007; any review is now likely to be delayed due to the general election.

Cyber attacks

The Information Commissioner’s Office has said that organisations must do more to combat the growing threat of cyber attacks; the ICO is calling for all organisations to boost their cyber security and protect the personal information they hold, amid the growing threat of cyber attacks.

Its own trend data reveals more organisations than ever are experiencing cyber security breaches that put people’s personal information at risk. Over 3,000 cyber breaches were reported to it in 2023, with the finance (22%), retail (18%) and education (11%) sectors reporting the most incidents.

Increase in Compensation Fund fees

Law firms and solicitors are due to pay at least three times more in compensation fund contributions next year as the Solicitors Regulation Authority seeks to cover the shortfall arising from big-ticket interventions.

Individual contributions will jump from £30 to £90, while the levy on firms will go up from £660 to £2,220. This is payable by all firms who hold client money and is a flat fee regardless of size of firm.

Legal services sanctions licence

The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation has issued a new legal services general licence which allows lawyers to receive payments from persons designated under the sanctions regime for legal services, providing they have met the terms of the licence. The previous Legal Services General Licence INT/2022/2252300 expired on 28 April 2024. Rather than renew it, OFSI have issued a new General Licence INT/2023/2954852 which takes account of feedback from the sector.

LSB delays Axiom Ince report

The Legal Services Board’s report on the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s handling of the Axiom Ince collapse will now not be published until after the general election; the LSB said that as a public body it was bound by guidance not to compete with the election campaign for public attention. However, some see the delay as a way of burying bad news!

The LSB is also reviewing the role of the SRA in the SSB Law collapse and will look at (i) whether the SRA acted effectively, adequately and efficiently, (ii) whether the SRA took all of the steps it could have taken, and (iii) whether the SRA’s acts or omissions in this matter necessitates changes in its procedure to mitigate the possibility of a similar situation arising again.

Post Office public inquiry

The Inquiry has recently heard a lot of evidence about the role lawyers played in the scandal, with Simon Clarke, an in-house barrister shining a bright light on various aspects of lawyer misconduct, including:

  • Lawyers minimized the content notes to cover their misconduct.
  • External lawyers acted without the Post Office’s proper instructions.
  • A lack of competence in prosecution work with lawyers not following the Prosecutor Code; one lawyer could not understand why his firm took on prosecution work when it was only experienced in dealing with defence work.
  • Continuing to act when there was a clear self-interest conflict.
  • Lawyers failing to report criminal conduct to the police.
  • A lot of group-think amongst key lawyers.

In her evidence the Chief Executive of the Post Office said, “we accepted very bad legal advice”.

One ex-Post Office GC has refused to give evidence to the Inquiry; she returned to New Zealand but steps are being taken by the Inquiry team to try and force her to give evidence, especially as she has key evidence to give.

The SRA now has plenty of evidence to show it needs to take action once the Inquiry is over!


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