It took the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) three years to decide not to take regulatory action against a solicitor, it has emerged.
This led the practitioner to believe his treatment was racially motivated, but neither the SRA nor its independent reviewer of complaints found evidence to support this.
Complaints about the SRA fell to 808 for the period November 2021 to October 2022, a 17% drop on the previous year and the lowest total in the last five years, according to a newly released report that went before the most recent meeting of the regulator’s board.
The fall was mainly due to a spike in the previous year resulting from the SRA’s closure of 16-office firm Kingly Solicitors, as well as solicitors experiencing IT difficulties when renewing their practising certificates.
Seven in every 10 corporate complaints were about how the SRA handled complaints about solicitors.
“Overall, 6% of those who brought complaints to us about a solicitor went on to complain about our handling of their concern. The majority of the complaints we received (57%) related to our decisions not to investigate matters following our initial assessment of an individual’s concern about a solicitor.”
The independent reviewer of complaints about the SRA, the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), noted that dissatisfaction is sometimes an “inevitable consequence of complainants’ strength of feeling and that nothing more may be done to allay concerns”.
However, the regulator is to improve signposting for complainants – clients often approach the SRA to complain about their solicitor’s service, for which the Legal Ombudsman is the appropriate destination.
Delay was the next most common cause of complaint – 182 complaints were received, of which 104 (57%) were found to be justified; half of those, in turn, related to the SRA’s investigation work.
We revealed recently that the SRA was introducing tougher targets for its investigators in a bid to reduce delays.
Among the 52 complaints the SRA received about bias and discrimination, the regulator said one “took over three years to decide not to take any regulatory action against a solicitor”.
“There were unacceptable periods of avoidable delay which led the solicitor to conclude his treatment was racially motivated.”
In two further cases the SRA “failed to note that we had agreed reasonable adjustments” with disabled complainants when the case was passed on from one member of staff to another, “causing frustration and inconvenience”.
However, despite “poor handling that undoubtedly led to perceptions we had acted in an unfair way”, neither the SRA nor CEDR “found evidence of any actual bias or discrimination”.
Complainants often alleged that the SRA was biased in favour of solicitors.
Communication was the other main cause of complaint.
Those unhappy with how the SRA has dealt with their complaint can refer the matter to CEDR, which received 143 initial enquiries but only 74 actual reports.
Delay was the most common issue here too and CEDR found that, in every instance, those delays had already been “appropriately acknowledged, explanations given and, in some cases modest ex gratia payments offered” by the SRA.
The main contributing factor was “case complexity”, it went on, which meant investigations could take a considerable period of time. “It is important that the SRA provides regular updates so that complainants’ expectations are appropriately managed,” CEDR said.
Overall, though, the number of complaints CEDR received represented “a remarkably small proportion of the SRA’s overall caseload”; it found no failings in 90% of cases and in only one matter did it recommend an ex gratia payment, of £100.