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SRA’s proposed handbook changes face public opposition

Tailored survey highlights public concern over regulator’s planned reforms

20 September 2016

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The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) proposed changes to its handbook are ‘likely to be widely opposed by the public’, a survey commissioned by the Law Society has revealed.

As part of its ‘Looking to the Future’ consultation, the SRA is planning to cut down the handbook with separate codes of conduct for solicitors and for law firms, presenting new opportunities for the profession to deliver services outside of regulated legal businesses.

However, the Law Society is concerned that the SRA’s proposals will create a two-tier solicitor profession and strip clients of key protections including legal professional privilege.

To gauge public opinion, Chancery Lane commissioned a survey carried out by Ipsos-Mori that revealed over three quarters (77 per cent) of 1,647 respondents believed the businesses in which solicitors work should be regulated.

A near unanimous 97 per cent said it was important that advice from a solicitor on a new legal issue should be private while 67 per cent felt it would be unacceptable for a solicitor from the same business to advise the other party involved in their legal issue.

Some 86 per cent thought businesses in which solicitors work should have professional negligence insurance and 88 per cent thought monies paid to solicitors up front should be kept in a separate account and used solely for the client’s issue.

Law Society Chief Executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘It’s clear from this survey that the changes to the rules governing solicitors are liable to be met with widespread opposition among the public. We urge the SRA to think again as their proposals will undermine public confidence in the solicitor profession and cause confusion for clients.’

The SRA’s proposed code of conduct for law firms has also been criticised by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and National Accident Helpline (NAH) over fears the regulator would remove a provision that prevents members of the public from being cold called by solicitors.

Last year, NAH’s Ethical Marketing Charter was set up to promote ethical and professional marketing practices in the personal injury sector with law firms, among other businesses, pledging to never cold call, trade in accident data, or use misleading advertising.

NAH said the SRA’s plans directly counter recent action from government and regulators, including the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom, which have taken a robust stance against nuisance marketing following revelations that some consumers were receiving up to 60 unwanted calls each month.

However, speaking to The Times’ The Brief last week, an SRA spokesperson said the regulator had ‘no intention of lifting the ban for solicitors working in personal injury and will make that clear in the final codes’.

‘This is very good news indeed,’ said APIL president Neil Sugarman. ‘I am delighted that the SRA has listened to concerns, because it’s really important that we do as much as we can to get rid of the scourge of cold calling for personal injury.’

The SRA’s consultation closes on 21 September.

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