Newspaper's immigration sting leads E&W legal regulator to ask for unlimited fining powers

Monday, 07 August 2023
The England and Wales Legal Services Board (LSB) is to consider giving tougher enforcement and investigation powers to legal services regulators, including higher financial penalties.

The new review follows a letter from Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) chair Anna Bradley to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, asking for powers to impose unlimited fines. A few days previously, a newspaper exposure of three solicitor firms involved in immigration services had prompted the SRA to close them down immediately.

Section 69 of the Legal Services Act allows the LSB to recommend changes to legal services regulators' powers to punish misconduct. The LSB says it has long believed that existing penalties are insufficient to deter certain serious misconduct. It will also consider enabling regulators to proactively gather information and share intelligence to help them detect and address 'wilful and serious' misconduct. It has already identified some weaknesses in regulators' disciplinary and enforcement processes through its annual performance assessments and is assessing progress made by regulators in addressing these weaknesses, although the ultimate policy decision rests with the Lord Chancellor.

'For some time we have been concerned that a lack of effective fining powers among some regulators, particularly the Solicitors Regulation Authority, may hamper their ability to tackle wilful and serious misconduct', commented LSB chairman Alan Kershaw. 'We are anxious to ensure that regulators have the most effective tools available to identify and deal with such misconduct.'

However, the Law Society of England and Wales strongly opposes any proposals for higher penalties. It noted that the SRA's maximum fines were increased from GBP2,000 to GBP25,000 only a year ago, and that more serious cases are typically referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), which has 'draconian' powers to sanction solicitors' wrong-doing, including the ability to bar offenders from the profession. 'This request appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to the recent media investigation into a very small number of solicitors, who have been quickly dealt with by way of interim measures while their cases are properly considered', said Law Society president Lubna Shuja.


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