The form that allows law firms to nominate their compliance officers for legal practice (COLPs) and for finance and administration (COFAs) should go live in the next six weeks, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said yesterday.
Though the nomination process has been delayed by the practising certificate renewal – it was meant to be completed by 31 March – the SRA said it still expected all COLPs and COFAs to be approved so they can formally assume their roles on 31 October.
COLPs and COFAs are responsible for ensuring their practice has systems and controls in place to enable the firm – as well as its managers and employees – to comply with regulatory requirements.
They will be required to report compliance failures to the SRA, either immediately if sufficiently important, or in an annual return.
Despite having earlier blamed the timetable slippage on the delay in completing practising certificate renewals, in a statement the SRA said it was to give firms more time to finalise their nominations, and also to allow for further checks on the application process.
Once it finalises the date when online applications can start, the SRA will write to all firms providing further advice and information on the process.
Executive director Richard Collins said: “We regret we have been unable to provide the online form as early as anticipated, but it is important that rigorous testing takes place before it enters the live environment.
“In addition we recognise that, for many firms, the annual renewal process has run later than originally planned. We hope firms will be able to use this extra time to ensure they have identified the best nominees for the roles.”
He emphasised the importance of COLPs and COFAs having “sufficient ability and authority” to carry out their roles. This should include having access to management systems and all other relevant information, such as client files and business information; COFAs should have access to all accounting records and carry out regular checks on accounting systems as well as conducting file and ledger reviews. They will also have to pass a suitability test.
Firms will have to supply the SRA will a range of information to verify that the nominated individual can properly discharge the responsibilities. This will include the firm’s organisational structure, the governance structure and the position of the compliance officers within it, and details of the compliance officers’ roles, such as whether they are part- or full-time employees, any other employers they have, and whether the roles are part- or full-time.
Mr Collins added: “It is important to remember that the existence of COLPs and COFAs does not absolve the firm and its managers from any of their own obligations.”
A webinar will be held in the spring to help with the application process. For detailed information on compliance responsibilities, see the SRA’s authorisation and practice framework rules here.