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SRA to ramp up sanctions for transparency non-compliance
21 December 2022

Firms still unable – or refusing – to comply with transparency rules face tougher disciplinary action, the Solicitors Regulation Authority has indicated. 

The regulator is in the middle of a sweep of around 2,500 firms to check if they are providing the price and service information required and also that they display the SRA digital badge.

An initial review of 500 websites has indicated a continued low level of compliance, according to minutes of this month’s board meeting. It is understood there is increased frustration at The Cube about solicitors’ reluctance to comply and short shrift given to arguments that the requirements may not be easily understood.

In his report to the board, chief executive Paul Philip said: ‘Given the rules have now been in force for coming up to four years and the fact that this group of firms have previously provided a declaration of compliance, we intend to take a more robust enforcement approach. Longer term we will also be looking to utilise the proposed new fining powers as part of this enforcement exercise.’

The board suggested it should send a ‘strong public message’ about the need to comply with existing rules and the prospect of ‘appropriate action’ for those who do not.

As of earlier this year, the SRA has the power to issue fines up to £25,000 without referring cases to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Speaking during a media briefing after the board meeting, Philip said the SRA had discussed whether the rules were too complicated or difficult to understand, but he observed: ‘[These are] lawyers, who are used to dealing with detailed propositions and it’s not that detailed.’

Law firms have to publish details of their employees’ experience and the time that work is likely to take, as well as prices for certain types of work. They must also display the SRA digital logo on their website, which confirms that a practising certificate is valid and clicks through to an SRA-hosted page.

More than a dozen firms have been sanctioned for breaching transparency rules, with the penalty usually ranging from a rebuke to a £2,000 fine.

The Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator, has indicated that too many consumers still report difficulty in finding price information and shopping around for legal services. The issue of transparency has been top of its agenda since the Competition and Markets Authority reported on the legal sector and said that more information needed to be offered by providers for consumers to make an informed choice.

Source: The Law Society Gazette, 20 December 2022

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