The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) has halved its budget for appeals from alternative business structures (ABSs), as it has yet to receive one since the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) started licensing them in 2012.
The SDT is the appellate body for appeals by ABSs against disciplinary and some licensing decisions made by the SRA.
While the SRA can only fine solicitors £2,000, it can fine ABSs up to £250m, and individuals working for them up to £50m.
The Legal Services Board has recently approved the SDT’s 2016 budget of £2.9m, up 5.6% on this year, but one area where a saving has been made is in cutting the budget for ABS appeals.
A report to last month’s board meeting said: “In our decision letter last year we noted that, given that no such appeals had been lodged, the SDT may wish to consider whether the assumptions used in preparing the budget remain appropriate.
“The SDT is still to receive an appeal from an ABS and so for budgeting purposes has reduced the assumption on the number of sitting days for such appeals by half (to 20 days, resulting in a budget reduction of £45,700). This element of the budget is ring-fenced and cannot be spent on other activities.”
The key driver for the SDT’s budget is caseload, and the report said that by the end of August 2015, 103 new cases had been certified for a hearing, compared to 118 for the whole of 2014. This was accompanied by greater complexity of the issues before the tribunal.
Although the SDT’s allowance for sitting days should be sufficient to accommodate this increase, the report said it would lead to additional administrative work before cases reached the hearing stage, while there was a growing number of challenges to the SRA case which needed to be settled before the substantive case was heard.
This was attributed “in part to the increase in the number of cases where respondents are represented rather than managing the case themselves”.
The LSB still felt that that a lower budget could have been submitted, especially as a £200,000 underspend was predicted, but in eventually approving what had been proposed, noted that any underspend was ultimately returned to the profession.
The report showed that the SDT was exceeding its performance targets, even though the cost per case has gone up as a result of the increased complexity of cases. The SDT was trying to reduce the average cost per court, however, and was recruiting three new clerks, which would help with this.