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Hate the Handbook? Curse the code? SRA sets out ‘red tape challenge’


Judge: ABSs are a big responsibility for the SRA

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will next month launch its own version of the government’s Red Tape Challenge, chairman Charles Plant announced yesterday.

Addressing guests at the official opening of the SRA’s new headquarters at The Cube in Birmingham, he said the initiative will help ensure that firms and the SRA “can maximise the benefits of outcomes-focused regulation (OFR) by removing bureaucratic processes which may have carried through from the old, rules-based, approach to regulation, but which are no longer necessary”.

He explained that the idea came from a discussion with a major firm about the inordinate amount of time it was taking the SRA approve a trainee being seconded to an in-house client legal department.

He said: “I asked the team why it was taking so long but also why were we doing this. The answer was that we have always done it. Some weeks later I had to address an audience in the City. I gave them a challenge – list 10 areas where in your opinion regulation is unnecessary or can be curtailed. I invited them to respond in a week and they did so. Two weeks later we confirmed that we would accept nine of their points.”

There will be an eight-week consultation and changes to the SRA Handbook will be introduced in April, Mr Plant said. Perfection, he added, would be a rule book that contained “no more than necessary to protect the public interest”.

He also denied charges that the SRA was becoming a heavy-handed regulator, saying that so long as firms were able to demonstrate that they had appropriate risk and governance structures in place, the SRA would “keep out of your hair” and direct its attention to those who failed to do so.

Mr Plant repeated his warning [2] to those 400-plus firms yet to nominate their compliance officers that “enough is enough” and promised tough action against them.

The move to The Cube represented “a truly definitive step in the transformation of the SRA”, with the relocation creating “greater efficiency, reduced operating costs and enhancement in staff morale”, he told the reception.

Guests also heard from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, who emphasised the “big responsibility” on the SRA to ensure that alternative business structures operate “to the same high professional standards” as traditional law firms.

In his address, SRA chief executive Antony Townsend argued that the move to outcomes-focused regulation and the “intelligent identification of risk” is starting to deliver results, with the the numbers of interventions and of referrals to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal declining.

He also had a swipe at the Bar Council – which this week called for the Legal Services Board to be abolished – by praising the work the board is doing.