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Unpaid SDT costs now run into millions

Unrecovered costs awarded against solicitors by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal now add up to millions of pounds, the Gazette can reveal.

Figures released following a freedom of information request show that in 2015 just £404,131 has been paid out of £1.7m ordered by the tribunal.
The unrecovered amount was even greater in 2014, for which £288,000 has been recovered from solicitors out of a total of more than £2m ordered.

In total, solicitors prosecuted through the tribunal between January 2014 and April 2016 still owed a total of £3.53m, the figures state.

This year has seen a number of cases where prosecution costs have reached five figures and beyond. The highest-profile was the prosecution of Rochdale solicitor Alan Blacker, which cost £86,000. It is unclear how much of the money will be repaid.

As shortfalls in costs are paid through contributions from the profession, solicitors are footing the bill for those who fall foul of the SDT and cannot pay.

The figures raise questions around the costs racked up by the SRA in prosecuting individuals and whether they are proportionate. The tribunal itself has shown it has concerns with some costs orders coming from the SRA.

In January, the regulator claimed £27,696 costs for investigating accounts rules breaches by a Blackburn solicitor. This was reduced to £9,500.

They may also reopen the debate around the maximum financial penalty that can be imposed by the SRA before the matter is moved to a tribunal – and the extra costs that entails.

The SRA’s limit on its fining powers for conventional firms is £2,000. The regulator would like to raise that threshold and lower the required criminal standard of proof, to bring overall costs down.

It is understood that the SRA is also considering a major overhaul of the way it investigates and prosecutes cases.

By John Hyde

(Courtesy of the Law Society Gazette)