In 2013, the report of the most comprehensive review of Legal Education and Training (LETR) for 30 years was published. That report was commissioned by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX). Professor Gus John chaired the LETR’s working group on Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility.
Also in 2013, Professor John conducted an Independent Comparative Case Review (ICCR) for the SRA:
‘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…’
Earlier reviews (Ouseley 2008; Pearn Kandola 2010) had revealed evidence of disproportionate regulatory outcomes for black and minority ethnic solicitors. The SRA was keen to establish whether such disproportionality as was found was on account of the ethnicity of BME solicitors, or on account of the application of its own policies and procedures, the result of extraneous factors, or a combination of all those. Professor John’s report was published on 13 March 2014.
The review found evidence of disproportionality at three stages of the regulatory process, namely: at the point at which a case is raised or a complaint is registered against a solicitor or a practice; in the process of investigating that complaint and at the point at which an outcome is determined or/and a sanction imposed. Disproportionality in the number of cases raised is not necessarily as a result of SRA action. Cases could be raised or complaints registered by members of the public, other solicitors, through self-referrals, or by other external agents.
The report also found that the SRA focuses almost exclusively upon only one of the regulatory objectives, i.e., regulating ‘in the public interest’ and fails to connect up that objective with, for example, ‘improving access to justice’ and ‘encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession’.
Professor John concluded that while regulatory disproportionality is correlated to ethnicity, it is not based upon the ethnicity of solicitors facing regulatory action. Prof John also concluded that BME disproportionality was not accounted for by racially discriminatory policies or practices of the SRA, but by a range of very complex and inter-related factors, including legal education. Prof John’s findings have implications for legal education and training providers, law firms awarding training contracts, the Law Society, the Legal Services Board, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and the SRA itself. He has made 50 recommendations to these bodies.
Photo (home): “london 16082008-66” by Walwyn (Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)