SRA publishes response to the Independent Comparative Case Review

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has today (Tuesday 3 June) issued its response to Professor Gus John’s Independent Comparative Case Review (ICCR) report, which was published in March this year.

The response identifies the key findings of the report for the SRA as being:

• that BME solicitors continue to be disproportionately over-represented at key stages of the regulatory process
• that there was no evidence of direct discrimination, including in the individual cases reviewed, in the way the SRA applied its regulatory policies and processes.

The SRA’s response has been informed by engagement with BME solicitors and organisations representing them, the Law Society’s Equality and Inclusion Committee, the Lawyers with Disability Group, sole practitioners and the Law Society, as well as SRA employees.

SRA Chief Executive Paul Philip has put on the record his thanks to Professor John and his team, as well as to Lord Herman Ouseley: “Professor John’s report has added significantly to our understanding of this important issue and we are grateful for his work, as well as that of Lord Ouseley who has worked with us over a number of years.

“Professor John found no evidence of direct discrimination, but we are concerned about his findings of continuing disproportionality in regulatory outcomes for BME lawyers. We are committed to undertaking the work necessary to identify the underlying causes of that disproportionality and, where it falls within our remit, to address those causes.”

The SRA has not waited for the publication of this response before embarking upon a programme of regulatory reform (www.sra.org.uk/reform) aimed at reducing the burden and cost on firms of all sizes. The regulation of small and BME firms will be a particular focus of the SRA’s work. Other actions intended to address the issue of disproportionality include:

• improved internal quality assurance processes to provide greater assurance that discretionary decisions are fair, consistent and free from bias
• an enhanced programme of engagement to ensure the SRA understands the issues experienced by its stakeholders
• improved data analysis to inform the SRA’s approach to issues of disproportionality
• continued efforts to recruit staff, Board and Committee members from more diverse backgrounds

The SRA’s response can be accessed here: www.sra.org.uk/documents/SRA/equality-diversity/independent-comparative-case-review-iccr-response-june-2014.pdf

The SRA has published two reports alongside the ICCR response.

The Workforce Diversity Data report (www.sra.org.uk/documents/SRA/equality-diversity/diversity-legal-profession-2013.pdf), was compiled as a result of recent submissions from 86 per cent of all firms regulated by the SRA. Over a period of time the data will provide comprehensive information about the make-up of the profession and will help measure the effectiveness of actions to improve diversity.

The Diversity Monitoring and Statistics (www.sra.org.uk/documents/SRA/equality-diversity/diversity-monitoring-2013.pdf) report shows an over-representation of BME individuals working in small firms, which are more likely to face some form of regulatory action. Encouragingly, there is a drop in the proportion of BME solicitors referred to the SDT for a third year running. The report indicates also that the profession is slowly becoming more diverse, with a very slight increase in BME and female solicitors in 2013 although this increase is not reflected at all levels within the profession.

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Note for editors

The ICCR report presented the results of case reviews and of a statistical analysis of SRA data. The terms of reference of the review were: “to identify whether there is disparity in the way the SRA applies its policies and procedures in dealing with BME practitioners as compared to others with a view to identifying potential improvements to such practices, policies and procedures to maximise fairness and consistency.”

The 238-page report was the result of one of the most extensive pieces of independent research and analysis into regulatory outcomes for BME solicitors and builds on work previously commissioned by the SRA from Sir Herman Ouseley (2008) and Pearn Kandola (2010).

The review comprised:

• a statistical analysis of regulatory outcomes by ethnicity and gender
• a comparative case file review
• a review of a sample of closed cases where discrimination had been alleged
• surveys, focus group sessions and follow-up interviews with a range of individuals and groups, including solicitors who had been subject to regulatory action and those who defend themselves in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT)

Download the ICCR report at www.sra.org.uk/iccr