Bid to improve consistency of sanctions for sexual and racial misconduct

Sexual misconduct: SRA says fines are not appropriate

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is aiming to reduce inconsistencies in the sanctions imposed across the legal profession in cases such as sexual misconduct, racial harassment and bullying.

LSB officials said that, following a meeting with the Bar Tribunals & Adjudication Service (BTAS), the Bar Standards Board, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in the summer, it had secured the agreement of all the legal regulators to publish a statement on counter-inclusive misconduct.

BTAS introduced tougher sanctions guidance for sexual misconduct and discrimination cases this month, while the SRA has suggested that fines, as opposed to suspensions and strike-offs, are unsuitable for sexual misconduct.

A paper for yesterday’s LSB board meeting said a draft statement was being circulated which aimed to “minimise, as far as possible within the current schemes of enforcement, variability in the sanctions applied”.

The text of the draft statement was redacted from the publicly available paper, but officials said it would make clear that this type of misconduct was “serious and challenged and dealt with appropriately”.

The regulators would make a commitment to “addressing concerns about apparent inconsistencies in the sanctions applied in cases, for example, of sexual misconduct, racial harassment and bullying”.

They would also “support each other in ensuring a consistent message to promote understanding that counter-inclusive misconduct must and will be tackled effectively wherever it is found”.

Some of the feedback focused on ensuring “the discretion and independence of [the tribunals] are not fettered”, while making it clear that such behaviour has no place in a professional environment.

The statement will be published subject to the board’s decision yesterday.

Looking more broadly at equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), the LSB paper said the frontline regulators have “continued to improve their approaches to tackling EDI challenges, collect data and improve their engagement with the legal profession.

“However, there still appears to be a lack of understanding of the relative success of particular actions targeted at addressing inequality, which is more evident with the smaller regulators.”

The paper added that the LSB’s involvement with the Judicial Diversity Forum brought “a real opportunity to connect the judiciary and legal profession more cohesively in a shared effort to identify tangible actions” to create positive change.

“It would be impossible for the judiciary to increase its diversity without a more diverse regulated community.”

The forum was being supported to “identify and apply interventions that have the greatest impact and to create an agreed understanding about what good looks like for judicial diversity”.

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