SRA “not sufficiently transparent” in explaining decisions

Buckley: Significant ongoing improvement

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is “not sufficiently transparent” in explaining its decisions at board level, the Legal Services Board (LSB) has said.

In a report on the performance of all the legal regulators under a new oversight regime introduced in December 2017, the LSB said the SRA’s board papers “should only be withheld or have content removed in limited circumstances”.

It called on the SRA to “review current publication policy and ensure that supporting evidence for decisions taken by the board or executive which impact on the regulated community is published as soon as possible after decisions are taken”.

The SRA no longer invites the public or the media to board meetings, and instead holds press briefings a week or two after.

The LSB also said it would not consider that solicitors were effectively “monitored to ensure standards are met” until the SRA had developed a “new approach to ensuring continuing competence of solicitor advocates”, following the demise of the Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) at the end of 2017.

The oversight regulator said it was not satisfied that the SRA’s existing register of solicitors was accessible and accurate – particularly in listing disciplinary records – and said development of the new digital register should be completed.

Overall, the legal regulators fared well in the assessment, however. It was against five standards – regulatory approach, authorisation, supervision, enforcement and leadership – which between them have 26 different outcomes to achieve.

The SRA was by no means alone in being criticised over failure to explain board decisions, or failure to keep an accessible register.

Two small regulators, the Master of the Faculties and the Intellectual Property Board, do not publish board papers at all. Neither regulator includes disciplinary information in the register of those they supervise.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) was described as publishing two tables of the probate firms it regulates, one table listing those it regulates, the other that it no longer regulates.

The LSB said there was no disciplinary information included, but the ICAEW had promised to complete a new register by July this year.

The oversight regulator said that although “plans were in place” to set up an ICAEW Regulatory Board to oversee its legal services’ work, the action remained outstanding.

The LSB said the ICAEW would update it on the timing of its probate review and “in due course” provide assurance about the “efficiency and effectiveness of governance arrangements”.

The LSB criticised the Bar Standards Board (BSB) over the delegation arrangements resulting in responsibility for the authorisation of barristers remaining with the Bar Council.

Further action from the regulator was demanded to address the “advocacy quality risks that QASA was designed to address”.

Meanwhile CILEx Regulation, which was also a member of QASA, was asked to develop “monitoring plans and standards” for its advocates.

The worst performer across the board was the Costs Lawyer Standards Board, which was required to submit an “overall action plan” to the LSB by the end of this month.

Neil Buckley, chief executive of the LSB, said: “We have seen significant ongoing improvement in the performance of the regulators since we first started assessing them in 2011.”

However, he went on: “There are two particular areas where a considerable number of regulatory bodies have not yet met the minimum standards required and we will focus our attention on these areas in the coming year.

“The first relates to failure of some regulators to include disciplinary findings in their regulatory registers. The second concerns transparency about regulators’ decision making and performance, which includes issues such as publishing board papers and detailed minutes.”

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