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Regulators target inconsistencies in approach to bullying and harassment

Hill: Idea met with universal positivity

Work has begun to create a consistent approach across all the legal regulators to sexual misconduct, racial harassment, bullying and other forms of “anti-inclusive misconduct”, it has emerged.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) is developing a statement to set out agreed common principles on the treatment of such misconduct by regulators and tribunals in a bid to reduce differences in the way they are handled.

The seemingly lenient sentences handed out to barristers for sexual misconduct when compared to those for solicitors and other professionals have been under the spotlight in recent months and led to a review [1] of the Bar Adjudication and Tribunal Service’s (BTAS) sanctions guidance.

According to chief executive Matthew Hill, the oversight regulator held a roundtable earlier this month with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, Bar Standards Board and BTAS to explore “a sector-wide statement on the use of disciplinary sanctions to tackle counter-inclusive misconduct”.

He told this week’s meeting of the LSB: “There was in principle agreement to the proposal and the underlying need for action to bring greater consistency across the sector. All parties at the meeting expressed a commitment to tackling diversity and inclusion issues in enforcement and sanctions.

“There was broad agreement that a statement of principle on counter-inclusive practices would be valuable in signalling greater consistency across the sector on enforcement sanctions.

“This would address concerns about apparent inconsistencies in the sanctions applied in cases, for example, of sexual misconduct, racial harassment and bullying.”

In a letter this week to regulators, Mr Hill said the idea had been received with “universal positivity across all regulatory bodies”.

The LSB will now start to develop a draft of the statement ahead of agreement and publication in the autumn.

The move is the first concrete example of the LSB’s push to increase collaboration between all the regulators, with different ones taking the lead depending on the topic – the SRA has offered to lead work on legal technology.

Papers published this week said that another issue where the LSB was well-placed to lead a joint effort was professional indemnity insurance, with a major review of the sector’s approach increasingly likely to be in its 2022/23 business plan.

“This would require significant staffing and financial resource to do properly. We would welcome interested regulators making resource available – perhaps through secondment or other collaborative forms of working – to start scoping the work in 2021/22.”