The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) and Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service (BTAS) have agreed to impose “deterrent” sanctions for sexual and racial misconduct and other forms of discrimination, bullying or harassment.
The SDT and BTAS said in a joint statement – the result of an initiative by the Legal Services Board (LSB) – that such sanctions should “mark the seriousness” of these forms of misconduct and encourage reporting.
In a separate statement, the LSB and the eight legal services regulators made their own commitment to tackle counter-inclusive misconduct.
They said this kind of misconduct was “serious and will be challenged and dealt with appropriately”, agreeing to “take every opportunity to ensure that its seriousness is reflected in a consistent way within our standards and codes and in our approaches to disciplinary action”.
They also agreed to “support each other in ensuring a consistent message” on counter-inclusive misconduct.
The LSB launched the push to encourage consistency last summer, following concern over seemingly lenient sentences handed out to barristers for sexual misconduct when compared to those for solicitors and other professionals.
This led BTAS to adopt tougher guidance on sanctions, which came into force at the start of this year.
In their statement, the regulators said: “While there have been some improvements in diversity and inclusion in the sector, there remains a great deal of work to be done.
“It is still more difficult to progress as a lawyer – sometimes much more difficult – if you are, for example, a woman, or if you are from an ethnic minority, or if you are a disabled person, LGBTQ+, or are from a lower socio-economic background. This needs to change much further and faster than it has in the past.”
Regulation was not “the whole answer, or even most of the answer” but it could be “an important part of the answer”.
It recognised that legal service regulators have “considerable influence over how legal professionals behave and in helping shape shared professional values”, in terms of training and education, setting standards of conduct and enforcing them through disciplinary processes.
“The signatories to this statement commit to using these levers to bring meaningful change to the experiences of all those in and served by the legal services sector.”
The SDT and BTAS issued their separate but complementary statement in recognition of their independence from the regulators.
They said counter-inclusive behaviour undermined “public trust and confidence in lawyers and the law” as well as having “a negative impact on diversity, recruitment, and retention”.
Matthew Hill, chief executive of the LSB, said the statement was a “collective commitment to doing everything we can to create a profession that is the most open and inclusive in the world”.
He went on: “Developing more inclusive workplaces will not only help deliver more professional services, but it will ensure people can contribute different ideas and fresh thinking that will lead to innovation across the sector.’
Alison Kellett, president of the SDT, said that “whilst every case is considered on its facts”, it was important that the profession and public were “assured that the tribunal will impose sanctions that reflect the seriousness of the misconduct”.
All of the regulators issued comments on the joint statement. Professor Janine Griffiths-Baker, interim chief executive of CILEx Regulation, said: “Too many CILEx lawyers tell us they feel patronised and looked down on, and so we are committed to working with others to tackle counter-inclusive behaviours.”
Sheila Kumar, chief executive of the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, added that she hoped the statement would give those experiencing discrimination “greater confidence to bring their experiences to the regulator”.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has recently consulted on introducing a regulatory obligation to challenge colleagues who treat others unfairly or without respect.