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The contempt of the SRA

Kerry Underwood has a warning notice for the SRA: Leave the law to parliament and judging to the judges

25 September 2017

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Along with all other solicitors I have received a warning notice from the Solicitors Regulation Authority about bringing holiday sickness claims.

In its application to any given case this is likely to be a contempt of court. It certainly shows contempt for parliament, contempt for the whole concept of law, and contempt for the role of lawyers. We are representatives and advocates for our clients. We are not the judges of our clients. The people who judge our clients are called judges.

Take this: “Holiday claims provide an example of our concerns that some law firms fail to engage properly, or sometimes at all, with the merits of the clients’ cases. This is of particular concern where there is evidence to suggest that the claim is false or dubious in some way. We are clear in our view that lawyers should not bring cases, or continue with them, where there is serious concern about the honesty or reliability of the evidence.”

Where to begin? Lawyers do not bring claims. Clients do. There are very limited circumstances in which we can drop a client, and being concerned about the evidence is not one of them. To ditch a client in those circumstances would be a breach of the solicitors’ code of conduct, written of course by the SRA itself. Apply the quoted paragraph to commercial cases and there would not be many left.

Is a defence lawyer, during a criminal trial, when cross-examination of the client has not gone well, expected to pull out there and then? That would go down well with the judge, jury, and defendant. What criminal lawyer does not often have “serious concern about the honesty or reliability of the evidence”? Does this mean that solicitors are no longer allowed to act for clients with convictions for dishonesty?

Risk factors set out by the SRA include the fact that the claim was made “sometime after the alleged incident”. Apart from the hopeless vagueness of “sometime after”, I thought that parliament fixed the limitation period.

“The claim comes from or involves people generating claims in the resort.” I thought parliament had sanctioned, regulated, licensed, and taxed claims management companies.

“The client drank or ate excessively.” Well, that excludes pretty much all of the population from the legal process, including most judges and lawyers. And so it goes on.

This is populist Daily Mail junk from the body charged with regulating solicitors. What next? “Don’t act for people charged with unpopular offences.” “Don’t appeal against sentences on people convicted of the following offences…”. “Don’t challenge the government.”

When a solicitor withdraws from a case mid-trial due to this guidance, I hope that a High Court judge orders the whole of the SRA to attend before them and explain this conduct.SRA, I have a warning notice for you. How about you leave the law to parliament and judging to the judges?

Kerry Underwood is senior partner at Underwoods Solicitors

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