Lawyers launch blistering attack on Solicitors Regulation Authority over whistleblowers
By Alex Varley-Winter | 14 October 2013
“It looks as if there is some form of malpractice” – Peter Herbert, chairman, Society of Black Lawyers
Regulators who oversee the conduct of solicitors in England and Wales are embroiled in extraordinary claims of sharp practice, racism – and cover-up.
Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL), is calling for a parliamentary inquiry into solicitors’ claims that regulators targeted them for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing by colleagues.
The barrister and part-time judge accused the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the disciplinary arm of the Law Society, of attempting to cover up wrongdoing within the profession.
He told Exaro that he wants the House of Commons home affairs committee to investigate. “We want a proper review of cases, particularly where people have alleged racial discrimination.”
The SRA, which describes itself as the independent regulatory body of the Law Society, has already ordered a review into allegations of institutional racism made previously by the SBL. The report of the review is due to be published next month.
But Herbert, a barrister who specialises in human rights, said that he had no confidence in the review.
“I hope it will not be a cover-up.” However, he said, “The SRA’s past practice has been that it has hidden, or not disclosed, potentially harmful reports that really are necessary to expose what is happening in the profession.”
Herbert claimed that several of his members have been targeted – even “struck off” – after making complaints about wrongdoing in their own firms.
He said that they were disciplined on the grounds of failing to prevent the wrongdoing, even though they had blown the whistle.
One solicitor told Exaro about being targeted for this reason, but also claimed that it was driven by race discrimination.
Herbert said: “It looks as if there is some form of malpractice in terms of the scale of interventions, investigations and the ethnicity of the adjudicators, and solicitors firms that have benefitted in what has essentially been ethnic cleansing of minority law firms.”
He said that the SRA was not independent enough from the Law Society.
There was a “conflict of interest”, he said, because the Law Society is supposed to promote the interests of its 120,000 members while the SRA has the power to end a solicitor’s career.
“If the Law Society had independent monitoring and scrutiny of what it does, it would be less likely to have a disproportionate number of black and minority solicitors being targeted.”
He believes that discipline is meted out in favour of white, male lawyers.
Last year, the SBL accused the SRA of being “institutionally racist” in a report entitled, ‘Breaking the silence: who is regulating the regulator?’
Herbert wrote in a covering letter to the report: “The large and predominantly white ‘magic circle’ firms enjoy virtual immunity from regulation because the SRA has neither the expertise nor the clout to surmount the considerable defensive resources available to such large firms.”
A spokesman for the Law Society said: “There is no basis for such allegations.”
“We have not been approached by Parliament or the government.” She said that ‘magic circle’ firms were “not immune from regulation”, adding: “Large firms have different governance challenges from small firms, but the SRA understands this.”
An SRA spokesman said: “We were created by an Act of Parliament, our governance arrangements with the Law Society are subject to approval from the Legal Services Board, which also regulates our activity.”
“We have done a lot of work to ensure our processes are fair. The current review is our continued action to address these issues, proving our commitment.”