The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) is expecting to adjudicate on a steady stream of sexual misconduct cases in the coming year, its annual budget has revealed.
Seven cases have already been lodged by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) this year, with a further eight to 12 expected before the end of 2019.
The regulator estimates a further 20 sexual misconduct cases being sent to the tribunal in 2020.
“On average these cases are likely to require more hearings days (whether for preliminary matters, the substantive hearing or both) than other types of cases,” the SDT noted.
This was against the background of the SDT forecasting a 26% drop in sitting days – from 406 to 300 – based on information about likely caseload provided by the SRA, which expects 170 applications to the SDT – including 38 brought by members of the public – as against 230 in the 2019 budget.
As a result, the SDT’s operating budget for 2020 is falling 2.7% to £3.1m, a figure approved last month by the Legal Services Board (LSB).
The SDT generally underspends significantly against its budget, with a £265,000 underspend expected this year – surplus funds are returned to the profession.
This is mainly due to fewer hearing days required, which the SDT said was because of the SRA submitting fewer cases than expected, hearing days lost due to agreed outcomes or adjournments, and hearings being shorter than the time estimate provided.
Acknowledging that much of this was the responsibility of the SRA rather than tribunal, the LSB described the persistent underspending as “an unsatisfactory situation”.
A paper before the board meeting said: “While acknowledging that forecasting in this area is inherently challenging, this is an issue we need to pursue further with the SRA as well as the SDT, in particular by challenging the SRA through our regulatory performance framework.”
The issue would also be addressed to some extent by the SDT establishing general reserves of £500,000, built by the underspend.
The budget showed that one extra cost for the SDT is adopting the London Living Wage on the cleaning and security contracts.