There is a “real risk” that members of the public will view the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) as “simply preferring the word of solicitors”, its independent review body has concluded.
The Independent Complaint Resolution Service (ICRS) – a body which deals with complaints against the SRA which are not resolved internally – said the regulator should also review its procedure for handling compensation fund claims to “avoid any perception of bias”.
The ICRS said 118 complaints were referred to it in the nine-month period between January and the end of September last year, 107 coming from consumers and 11 from solicitors. This compares with 122 complaints referred during the whole of 2014.
It said most complaints came from consumers “dissatisfied with the SRA’s response to a complaint about a solicitor”, but in most cases the ICRS was unable to help because the dissatisfaction was with the regulatory decision rather than the way in which matters had been handled.
Of the cases referred, the ICRS reviewed 18 from consumers and seven from solicitors. In total, only a dozen complaints were upheld.
“It is right to say that the SRA receives few complaints in relation to the large volume of work it carries out and its ongoing interactions with members of the profession and the public.
“Most people are satisfied that the SRA does a good job and recognise the efforts being made by the SRA to become a regulator suited to the 21st century.
“Despite this, this year there was a marked increase in the number of referrals we received. Most of these came from members of the public who had complained about actions by solicitors which they felt warranted disciplinary action by the SRA.
“When the SRA did not agree with this, people were disappointed and often angered that solicitors had ‘got away with it’ and felt that the SRA was ‘on the side of solicitors’.”
The ICRS suggested the SRA should consider addressing the risk of the perception of bias by sharing some of its assessments of complaints or publishing examples of serious misconduct.
It also recommended that the SRA should review the procedure for dealing with compensation fund claims, the information on its website about firm closures and the systems for tracking the mail it received.
It added that the SRA had responded “very positively” to its recommendations. Noting that its services had been “terminated” after four years, the ICRS said it was “pleased to note” that the regulator had appointed “a new service provider”.