In March 2014 the SRA published a consultation seeking views on proposals to remove the unnecessary and over burdensome process which requires solicitors who do not hold practising certificates (PCs) to complete a yearly online application and pay a fee if they wish their name to remain on the roll of solicitors.
Solicitors would continue to have their name entered onto the roll following admission. The process for solicitors to request removal of their name from the roll will remain unchanged as will regulations allowing the SRA to bar removal of the name of solicitors subject to disciplinary proceedings or a complaint.
View the full SRA consultation (at the time of preparing this response)
Question 1: Do you agree with the proposal to stop the annual updating process while keeping the power for the SRA to carry out updates when we think this is needed?
JLD response: The JLD does not agree with the proposal to stop the annual updating process while keeping the power for the SRA to carry out updates when it thinks this is needed (the “Proposal”).
Whilst we support, in principle, initiatives which reduce the regulatory burdens upon our members, we must balance this with the need to ensure the quality and great traditions of our profession remain intact. This particular tradition goes to the heart of providing full and accurate information to the public about solicitors on the roll. In addition, it is unclear under what circumstances the SRA may consider it “needed” to run an update.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (the “SRA”), as the regulatory arm of The Law Society, is obliged by law to keep a list of all solicitors called the roll. However, it is likely that the Proposal, if implemented, would lead to a vastly inaccurate roll, rendering the entire process devoid of any practical use.
With the diversity of the changing legal market, which includes many legal professions who are not solicitors, the roll is regularly used by members of the profession to identify solicitors. This is utilised in day to day litigation, negotiations and cost discussions. It is therefore imperative that the roll is accurate.
However, despite the above, the JLD is primarily concerned about the impact the Proposal would have on the end consumer of legal services. The roll currently permits consumers to check that individuals purporting to give legal advice and guidance are in fact registered to do so. They should be entitled to rely upon the accuracy of the roll. The Proposal would dilute the measures in place which ensure the quality of standard of legal professional advice. The Proposal is not in the interests of consumers.
Further, it is noted that the SRA website directs members of the public to the solicitors roll, for a number of reasons, to include: to assist in the battle against bogus solicitors’. This suggests that it is a very real problem. Accordingly, the protection of consumer may be hindered if the roll is not maintained and accurate.
In addition, as junior members of the profession, the JLD is duty bound to protect the profession for its future members. Given the lack of protection afforded to consumers by this proposal, it is inevitable that public trust in the profession and legal standards will be eroded to the public. This could have significant consequences for the future of the legal profession.
Accordingly, the JLD accepts that it is appropriate that an Annual Fee is payable by members who wish to remain on the roll. It is the JLD’s position that the annual update of the roll should continue for the protection of the profession and the public.
Question 2: If not, what other suggestions do you have?
JLD response: The current system, although not in electronic form, is a well established and well regarded part of being a solicitor. Both practising and non practising solicitors are accustomed to this process. We consider the current system to be adequate and relatively straightforward. For the reasons outlined in Question 1, the JLD would not support a significant change in this respect. If there were to be a move towards deregulation, we would understand, with regret, a position whereby updates were required less regularly (perhaps every two years, or at most three).
If updates were less regular than this, there could be many occasions whereby people would remain on the roll when they should have been removed, which will again put the consumer at risk.