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Mail sting: SRA asks government for unlimited fining power

By John Hyde >>

(2 August 2023)

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has called for the power to issue unlimited fines against firms whose solicitors commit serious misconduct as part of its response to the Daily Mail’s immigration lawyer sting. 

SRA board chair Anna Bradley made the plea to justice secretary Alex Chalk MP as an adjunct to her letter to him regarding the investigation into immigration lawyers caught in the Mail’s sting last week.

Bradley responded to Chalk’s request to investigate the issues raised by the Mail and assured him that the immigration sector was being reviewed.

But she also raised the wider issue of the SRA’s fining powers, and called – for the first time in public – for the chance to issue sanctions along with sending proceedings in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Bradley said: ‘While individual solicitors should face the SDT for serious wrongdoing (and in appropriate cases forfeit their right to practise), that does not preclude the SRA from also fining them and their firm. This process could run in parallel with proceedings at the SDT and would deliver an obvious and immediate incentive for the proper running of the firm, a consequence for all partners of the firm and a clear motivation for the firm to “self-regulate” or face the significant financial consequences.’

The SRA is set to be given unlimited fining powers for specific crimes through the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill currently going through parliament. Bradley said this was something the SRA had lobbied for over many years but she asked that this power now be granted for all cases of serious misconduct.

‘I have no doubt, that this would provide a swifter deterrent and change behaviour,’ she added. ‘However, in order to do so, the financial penalty must be much more significant than we can presently prescribe.’

Bradley proposed to meet Chalk and discuss the statutory steps that would need to be taken to create these additional powers.

Since July 2022, the SRA has been able to issue fines of up to £25,000 against traditional firms (the limit is £50m for alternative business structures). The regulator has already used this new power on several occasions, including for breaches of anti-money laundering rules.

Bradley was ostensibly replying to Chalk over the issue of immigration lawyers. The SRA yesterday intervened into three solicitor firms and suspended the practising certificates of three solicitors, effectively preventing them from operating while an investigation is ongoing.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)