BME solicitors still face disproportionate amount of regulatory action, SRA admits


Regulatory outcomes: disproportionality problem first identified seven years ago

Black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors continue to figure in a disproportionate number of regulatory actions, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has admitted.

Figures to be published by the end of July will show this disproportionality across key areas such as interventions, referrals to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the imposition of practising certificate conditions.

The SRA has been working on this problem since it was first identified in 2004, leading to the Ouseley report in 2007 and the SRA’s first equality and diversity strategy a year later. This is being replaced by an equality framework which was agreed this week by the SRA board.

In a statement, the SRA told Legal Futures: “Over the past two years we have held a number of joint events with key BME practitioner representative groups, such as the Society of Asian Lawyers and the Black Solicitors Network aimed at BME solicitors.

“We have used these events to improve our engagement with BME solicitors, provide information about our role, give support and information on key areas of the code, and make it clear what we expect from firms regarding compliance. We have also improved transparency in relation to our investigative work, published our decision-making criteria, and demonstrated how we assess risk.

“Although we are pleased about this progress, we recognise and are concerned that disproportionality still exists in our disciplinary and enforcement actions affecting this segment. We are continuing to address this area.”

Also, an action plan was put in place following research last year into disproportionality, and the SRA said a report of progress against this will be published by September.

The SRA outlines its equality objectives for 2011/12 within the equality framework, explaining how these will be met through a detailed action plan.

The SRA said two key priorities in coming months are to ensure that respect for equality and human rights are embedded within its new authorisation, supervision and enforcement functions, and in the work being undertaken within the organisation to prepare for outcomes-focused regulation.

It will also be working with solicitors to help them meet the new mandatory principle to “encourage equality of opportunity and respect for diversity” by delivering the new equality and diversity outcomes set out in the code of conduct that comes into force on 6 October.

SRA chief executive Antony Townsend said: “The equality framework will help us focus on our key equality objectives for 2011/12 and build on the improvements we have made over the past few years. Despite the progress we have made, there remain considerable challenges, which the framework and objectives identify.

“As we transform our organisation to meet the challenges ahead, we will actively promote equality and diversity in all our activities and continue to work in partnership with our stakeholders.”

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